Women Crush Wednesday: Sarah Sudhoff
Sarah Sudhoff is an artist, photographer, educator and former photo editor for Texas Monthly and Time magazines. Most recently she served as Executive Director of the Houston Center for Photography.
Sudhoff's work interweaves themes of gender, science and personal experience through photographs, both staged and found, as well as through performance, installation and small scale sculpture. Sudhoff's work is currently shown at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York in a two person show titled After you're done. In 2016 Sudhoff exhibited in Chicago both at the Filter Photo Festival and at Roots & Culture as part of the exhibition "Care, a rehearsal for performance". Sudhoff was also awarded an exhibition as part of FRESH 2016 at Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn with her on-going series, "Precious Metal" and exhibited in Asia, for the first time with her series "At the Hour of Our Death" at the DongGang International Photo Festival in South Korea.
In 2015, Sudhoff exhibited her performance "Surrender" in "Mother of the Year: Between strength and crisis: Images of Motherhood from 1900 to 2015 Present Day", at LENTOS Kunstmuseum Linz, in Linz, Austria as well as in "Project Afterbirth: 21st Century Pregnancy, birth and early parenthood in Art", at White Moose Gallery in Devon, United Kingdom. Her series "At the Hour of Our Death" was also exhibited in Europe in 2016 in the exhibition "Grief, Trauma, Loss: the art of bereavement", at Crafts Study Centre, in Farnham, UK. View more of her work here.
Interviewed by Jing Zhao
We are looking at your series “Weird”, which currently being featured at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn (Sarah Sudhoff and Jo Broughton: After you're done, SEP 22 - NOV 12, 2017). Could you tell us more about this series?
While I'd had a long standing fascination with medical devices, this was my first opportunity to photograph sexual devices used in medical research. This juxtaposition of themes, intended use and history of the object, and those that encountered the devices compelled me to schedule a return visit to the Kinsey Institute in the spring of 2011. During my visit, I photographed objects past and present the Kinsey Institute uses in their ongoing and vital research.
I saw the instruments not only as objects for research but reflections of the individuals. The images function as stills life's but also as portraits of the Kinsey Institute and their research subjects.
I think it’s fascinating to see photographs of sexual devices in such a usual way. It’s minimal, direct and smart. It unveils new mystery. I am wondering when did you first get into the Kinsey Institute and how did you get the permission to photograph these devices?
I first encountered the Kinsey Institute when I participated in their annual art competition in 2008. Although I did not attend the opening, I stayed in contact with the curator. In 2009, I asked if I could visit the Kinsey as an artist-in-residence. I was very lucky and they approved this. Researchers and students had been using the facility for years however, no one had come to the Kinsey Institute before as an artist to make work about the Kinsey Institute itself. In 2010, I visited the Kinsey Institute and spent 4 days absorbing medical journals and textbooks dedicated to the treatment of women in the early 20th century as well as hundreds of photographs of the female nude from the same time period. However on the last day of my residency, I witnessed a research assistant washing out a medical device in a small sink—the trough portion of the Biothesiometer. Although a rather routine event for everyone else at the Kinsey Institute, I was caught completely off guard yet intrigued.
Could you describe your process a bit further?
I spent months in the planning stages of the project, acquiring permission and arranging for my flight and accommodations. I only spent one weekend shooting. I visited during Indiana University’s spring break while the Kinsey Institute was officially closed. It assured me uninterrupted time to work as well as prevented me from accidentally encountering volunteer research participants.
The devices were shot on location at the Kinsey Institute with all available lighting. I photographed the objects in three environments-the research lab at the Kinsey, the conference room next door to the research lab, and the women's bathroom. The Kinsey Institute has a unique mauve color palette and I wanted to reflect this subtlety in the images by using the counter tops, carpeting and walls as backgrounds for the devices.
It’s always important to leave room for imagination and discoveries. I think photographs shouldn’t require a long descriptive text to be appreciated. Take “Wired” for example, these devices in your work seem to have different personalities and quietly tell their own stories to viewers. Is this open-ended element an important part of your work?
During graduate school when I was making the visual switch from a documentary and journalistic style to a more conceptual approach, my photographs were far more direct. Too direct. Since then I have consciously strived to not only make strong and compelling images of subject matter not often discussed or seen, and to feature it in a way that allows several interpretations of the photograph. I definitely point viewers in a direction with the titles of my projects and of the works themselves but at the same time, it is important to me that my work is never a quick read but rather invites the viewer to carefully consider the object, person or scene in front of them.
I have been thinking about abstract photography lately. I am curious about your thoughts on this. Have you ever been in a situation where, you found any work is too abstract for you and why?
Quit the opposite. I am continually trying to distill my work down to only the necessary elements. Most of my work is abstract or has elements of abstraction as seen in Single Use Only and At the Hour of Our Death. However since both utilize the color red the images have a far more immediate response from viewers. Where as the 5 part series, Tipping Point in Supply and Demand I think is by far the most minimal of my works in terms of subject matter, breastmilk in this case and subtle shades of white.
1.How would you describe your creative process in one word?
Persistent. It takes me on average between 6 months-2 years to gain access to my subject matter.
2. If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
I would love to teach a course on properly researching topics and how to successfully engage institutions to collaborate with artists.
3. What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
I'm still reading Sally Mann's memoir Hold Still. Unfortunately I fall asleep most nights putting my children to bed so there is little time for pleasure reading. The last film I saw which inspired me was Lion, based on a true story.
4. What is your most played song in your music library?
Hunters and Collector's-Throw Your Arms Around Me, Air-All I Need, Iron and Wine-Jezebel or Cinder and Smoke
5. How do you take your coffee?
Mocha latte, skim milk and always hot