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Photo: Nadege Meriau

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At first glance Nadege Meriau‘s photographs appear to be microscopic images, at second glance, apocalyptic landscapes. But in reality they are assembled out of food: fruits, vegetables, bones, meat and more.

The lighting is haunting and carefully constructed with a muted color palette. When studying her images, one starts forming an exit strategy. There is a paradox in them, between pain and pleasure.

Meriau is a Tunisian-born artist who is currently based in London. She received her masters from the Royal College of Art in 2011 and has exhibited her photographs in Europe since 2005. Most recently she was nominated for the Discovery Prize at Les Rencontres d’Arles. In her interview with Raw File below, Meriau discusses her process, intentions and negotiating art versus commercial work.

Wired: Would you say that science is an influence on your work? If so, could you explain how?

Meriau: Yes, the natural sciences, especially biology, are a strong influence. One of the main starting points for this project was my reading of Darwin’s The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits. I am also very interested in biomimicry, especially when it comes to architecture.

Wired: Do you consider your images to be abstract or do you want your audience to immediately understand what you are building? Could you explain the importance of working with food?

Meriau: I want to disorientate the viewer, at least initially, so hopefully the images are not immediately understandable. I’m drawn to edible materials because of their complex textures and colors but also because they are alive and unpredictable as they change with time and temperature.

The transformative, alchemical aspect of growing and cooking food is interesting to me, perhaps because it is akin to the creative process. I also like the idea of exploring everyday edible objects such as a piece of bread or a potato.

Wired: I see that you shoot commercial photography as well as fine art and that you are represented by Wyatt Clarke and Jones. How do you feel about making your work for strictly commercial purposes?

Meriau: I don’t see myself as a commercial photographer but more as an artist who takes on commissions and works collaboratively with art directors, designers and picture editors.

Wyatt Clarke and Jones are known for representing people who didn’t set out to be commercial photographers. They have an understanding of fine art and documentary photography, which makes it possible for me and other photographers to work with them.

I see my art and commercial practices as separate yet entwined: One is research based and the driving force behind everything I do, the other is more indexical and about working collaboratively on a brief. I enjoy both and I see them as feeding of one another as if part of an ecosystem.

Wired: In many of the structures from your current work, the viewer has a sense they are trapped inside these caves. Is this your intention in terms of narrative?

Meriau: My intention is to envelop or draw the viewer into these spaces, not to trap him/her. If you look carefully there is always an exit point, a chance to escape.

Wired: To me your structures seem to represent dwellings, are they a comment on the nature of “Home”?

Meriau: I’m interested in the duality of the concepts of food and home and how both can be seen as safe, nurturing, life-giving or unsafe, destructive and poisonous.

Wired: Who are your artistic influences?

Meriau: Jules Verne, Stanley Kubrick, Werner Herzog, Marx Ernst, Salvador Dali, Theodore Gericault, Caspar Friedrich, William Turner, Alex Hartley, Louise Bourgeois, Anya Gallacio, Sarah Lucas … to name a few!

Wired: What is next for you? Will it involve food?

Meriau: Food is vast territory that I’m only beginning to explore. Ideas for future projects involve a mushroom-based installation and a collaboration with a beekeeper and his bees.

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New York winter self-portrait
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Like many photographers who struggle to find subject matter worthy of photographing, Sandy Kim turns her camera on a subject with which she is intimately familiar – her friends, her love and her life.

“I use what I have, and since my life is readily available that’s what I shoot,” she says.

Kim, now 26, came into the public eye a few years ago when Girls, a San Francisco band she had befriended and was photographing religiously, started to make it big. Suddenly her photos were in The New York Times and Fader. Her unique style garnered praise from both audiences and other shooters and she was name-checked in an interview with art photographer Ryan McGinley.

Her photos continue to appear in Fader – the mag calls her their “BFF” – and her latest project ties together the last two years of her life through sexual degrees of separation.

“I started making this map of sexual relationships between me and my friends,” says Kim. “Once I started mapping it out on paper, I was surprised to see how big and complicated it became. We live for sex, and because of sex we’re alive. The photos represent the different intersections on the map. There are portraits, feelings, and special occasions, kind of like different stations on a subway map.”

Sex Degrees of Separation Rail Map. Image: Sandy Kim

Kim is not the first photographer to turn the camera back on herself, and its rare to have conversations about her work without hearing references to Nan Goldin and McGinley, among others. Yet her work is more carefree and loving than Goldin and less contrived than McGinley.

Her photographs allow viewers to be voyeurs in lives they may or may not ever lead themselves. The images deflate the youthful fantasy that people never have to grow up and that summers are forever endless. Viewers watch her grow up, watch her fall in love and, by proxy, get to re-live their own versions of these moments. Her pictures of her relationship with her boyfriend, Colby, are intimate and genuine in a way few photographers accomplish, if for no other reason than they are a document of tender moments, pure and simple.

“Sex has always been present in my work,” says Kim. “Especially because I started shooting more after I fell in love. I think sex is beautiful and ugly at the same time and I try and show both sides, mostly the beautiful part.”

Kim grew up in Portland. In 2004, at age 18, she moved to northern California where she found herself exposed to a world she never knew existed.

“When I lived in Portland I lived in this little bubble and didn’t really look past it,” she says. “After moving to San Francisco I was introduced to a badass music scene where artists were so talented, inspiring and beautiful, I got excited and wanted to photograph everything around me.”

She befriended artists and musicians, and was asked to tour with local bands. That’s when she hooked up with Girls.

Though she’d been taking pictures on her own, and got her BFA in Graphic Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Kim started to take photography more seriously through the external pressure of friends. Girls bassist JR encouraged her to shoot more, and photographer Bryan Derballa (who shoots for Wired), built her a blog to use as a platform and pushed her to use it.

Kim uses various point-and-shoot cameras purchased at thrift stores, from Yashica T4s to Olympus Stylus Epics to her favorite Contax T2.

“I didn’t consider myself as a serious photographer, or even photographer at all, so I couldn’t justify spending more than 10 bucks on a camera. I still prefer film over digital. It’s changed my process because when I edit digital photos it takes me a lot longer to edit and look through. With film you’re kind of stuck with the photos you get and have to make it work. Sometimes I get unexpected surprises that come out to be pleasant in the end or used to my advantage.”

While the camera in her hand has an impact on how the images ultimately look, her pictures are less about the tool and more about the events unfolding around her.

“I think my friends enjoy being photographed by me because I’m capturing a time of their youth and just like for me and everyone else 10 years from now things are going to be different but we’ll have photos to remind us of our wild youth,” she says.

Her work is a reminder that photography can be used not as a means to experience, but as a means to remember. Her photos are reactionary rather than anticipatory, composition and lighting not meticulously thought through or planned. Her exploration of themes in sexuality, tinged with love and naïveté, are painted with a brush of carelessness and mild sentimentality.

“I find that I’m constantly changing. Even by the day. I also feel that I’ve matured over the last year. I used to go out and get wasted every day so I would be taking photos of crazy situations my friends and I would get into because of us being drunk. But nowadays I find myself wanting to hang out with my boyfriend all the time so I end up photographing him. Also I’m madly in love, which helps. He’s a beautiful person inside and out. Sometimes I find myself just staring at him, watching him, learning him, the way he plays a guitar or the way he peels an orange in bed and eats it. And while I find myself in this trance I realize, why don’t I just take a photo and remember this moment forever.”

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:Update: Big ideas don’t happen behind closed doors. That’s why they keep their work space and their work style open. For the last 25 years, they’ve applied this informal collaboration to branding.

Hats off to Square One Design and to many more years!

_______

Even their blog is delicious.

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