In anticipation of the opening of Searching for Eve in the American West at Tristan Hoare, ArtAttack had the chance to speak with photographer Maryam Eisler about her collection of work on view and general artistic practise.
Inspiration for the exhibition comes from Eisler’s visit to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico, former home and studio of renowned American Modernist Georgia O’Keefe. Eisler spent time in the desert on her trip, working day and night as she traveled further and further into the nature of the area.
She recalls, ‘The search for Eve, my muse, somewhere between the majestic heavens and Mother Earth, standing atop the rocky inclines, as sensual and as powerful as the monumental nature that had surrounded her.’
We spoke to Maryam to delve deeper into her experience, the specifics of this show and also to hear about her beginnings as an artist.
ArtAttack: When did you first become interested in photography and going off of that, what is it about photography that you find most special/exciting?
Maryam Eisler: My interest in photography sparked when I was ten or eleven living and going to school in Paris attending a great deal of exhibitions and museum shows on weekends with my mother. But I guess the crystallising moment was a show of Man Ray at the Centre Pompidou in the early 80s, where I was simply mesmerised by his work.
I pursued my passion over time whilst attending university in the States and often visiting and eventually living in New York City. In the early 90s I worked for L’Oreal and Estee Lauder in brand management and marketing in both London and in New York. It was during these years that I was also exposed to the professional side of photography given the image-led beauty industry in which I was involved, with many hours spent on film sets, developing ads from concept to finished product. That is when I understood the power of the image, both perceptional and behavioural.
It is in the early 2000’s that I actually finally decided to step behind the camera and experiment (with both image and equipment, with a particular penchant for the medium format and the Hasselblad). I also enjoyed the process of developing my own images, a journey filled with dark room surprises and magic, in lack of better words. I really enjoyed the anticipation of the unknown and manually “painting with light” in order to achieve end images developed initially in my mind.
It is also during those years that I understood the poetic power of photography, of translating an often ephemeral image in my mind, a fantasy of some sort into a physical form….the idea of concretising by osmosis my own inner feelings. That is when I understood the emotive power of photography not onto myself but also onto others…the idea that through my pictures, I could actually affect viewers emotionally – both good and bad, and more often than not enable them to dream and get transported to other realms and fantasies.
As to myself, the act of photography is therapeutic . It is almost spiritual . It is a journey, a sanctuary which allows me to live in the moment ( that second before the click followed by the sigh following , allowing me to crystallise thoughts and maximise my creative potential).
I also believe in its magic.
AA: In your New Mexico nudes, it feels like the bodies are almost a part of the landscape. Was this intentional and can you explain it a bit?
ME: Yes very much so. The objective for me was not to platform sexuality but rather sensuality and to combine my two favourite artistic themes, the figurative and the landscape. It is about the celebration of Women with a capital W alongside nature, intertwined.
Whilst walking and climbing the arid and often baron New Mexico desert and canyons, I was taken by the power of its nature, not to mention the big open skies and the very special light that bathed the land. You have to experience the light in order to understand it. Often thinking of what earth may have looked like at its origin, and pondering as to whether much had indeed changed in this part of the world since. Which led me to the idea of Eve and the Original sin. She became my muse, my inspiration at one with nature and the land.
AA: For these images, you were moved by your visit to Georgia O’Keeffe’s house. Can you tell us about this?
ME: Yes indeed. About four years ago, I visited Santa Fe during the making of a book on American artists and their Studios (Art Studio America : Contemporary Artist Spaces co- published by Thames and Hudson and TransGlobe Publishing). We visited Abiquiu and O’Keeffe’s ranch, Ghost Ranch. The journey in the footsteps of this American art giant let me bewildered and I clearly recall the moment when I was confronted with her home, sandwiched between two red rock canyons without a soul or animal in site – only earth, sun and cacti. And I often thought of what courage this incredible force of nature, this woman, would have had to move on her own to this part of the world willingly and consciously during the time that she did. But I had an almost moment of revelation where I understood her rational, the spiritual power of the land, mystical and sacred, hand in hand with the vastness of the sky looming over her, engulfing her every move, empowering her with possibility.
And so I promised myself to one day return under less strenuous deadline constraints. It took me four years but I fulfilled that promise, only this time in search of my own inspiration, Eve (or was it Georgia?), standing high and proud atop red earth summits.
AA: Who are some of your favorite artists who feel have influenced your work?
ME: It is clear that I have been influenced a great deal by artists in turn influenced by shadow and light, as well as nature and the female form. There are of course the great American photographers such as Ansel Adams and his imposing American landscapes, Weston and his female forms as well as Lucien Clergue with his play on shadow and light on the female body – a few names among many more . But I have to also say that it is not only photographers who have influenced me. There are the great American modernist poets, such as Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Walt Whitman, EE Cummings . Emily Dickinson ….many of whom have celebrated ” Woman ” throughout their careers :
Be Not Ashamed Woman
You are the Gates of the Body
And you are
The gates of the Soul
( Walt Whitman)
….and the artists such Agnes Martin ( herself a native of New Mexico and Georgia O’ Keeffe of course :
I feel there is something unexplored about
woman that only a woman can explore”
( Georgia O’ Keeffe)
And the list goes on. I had a great deal of time to read, reflect, and think during my time in the desert – a very privileged period, during which time itself was almost meaningless. In fact, it stopped and allowed me to take in the wonders of nature, allowing me to explore my own inner thoughts.
AA: What is it like shooting nudes? Is it quite personal or do you feel detachment like it’s just part of the job?
ME: It is very much a choice and it is not “a job.” It is a passion. And as I said before, it is not about the sexual but rather the sensual. It is about celebration of the female form, but also of her mind and I would even argue her soul. It is also about form and dynamics. In fact, my models were contemporary dancers so what interested me most was the depiction of muscular disposition. I was also interested in the love making between the female form, smooth and curvaceous with its surrounding nature, baron and angular at times, an exploration of the Yin and the Yang, the idea of polar opposites attracting each other and forming beauty and aesthetics as an end result.
AA: Any upcoming projects you can share with us?
ME: Yes, I am excited to say that I am working on a series shot in Provence, entitled : Lumieres Provencales, exploring the Nude in a different, less barren and more fertile grounds as compared with the American West – a journey or possibly even a pilgrimage during which I retrace the footsteps of some of the greats such as Lindberg in the Salt beds of Camargue and Lucien Clergue with his play of lights, only this time with my own eye and visual interpretation of the environment in question.
– India Irving
Maryam Eisler: Searching for Eve in the American West will be on view at Tristan Hoare from 3-12 November, 2016; 6 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 5JH; Open Tuesday-Saturday 11AM-6PM; Admission: FREE