Inspired by nature, personal memories and Buddhist death ceremonies (as experienced at her Vietnamese grandfather’s funeral) photographer Sarah Vo’s pictures say a thousand words, with stories and notes attached to every grain.
22-year-old Sarah Vo has already established a voice and a style far beyond her years. Her ethereal, dreamy pictures are beautifully conceptualised and composed, making many of the garments worn by the models herself. Taking nature as her muse, Vo prefers to shoot outside, playing with light, reflection and water, creating photographs that look like fairytales. Her current body of work evokes a similar feeling of serenity to the Wapping Project’s most recent installation of a larger than life dress by Yohji Yamamoto softly lit in a flooded room (you’ll see what I mean here). Timeless and otherworldly, Vo’s photographs are certainly pleasing on the eye, taking you off somewhere for a moment. i-D Online chatted with the photographer about cameras (naturally), storytelling and Mother Nature.
Tell us about how you became a photographer? It happened almost by accident, as I was taking photography classes because I needed an extra A level. Little did I know, that I would end up becoming obsessed with it. I have a certain Mr Bicker-Carten to thank for this!
What camera do you use? I work using analogue cameras, from 35mm to various polaroids and larger formats. I love working with polaroid and I’ve recently been experimenting with making my own papers to print on.
Which photographers do you most admire? I love Wendy Bevan and Sarah Moon’s work. Both have such interesting characters in their photographs, their work is timeless and beautiful.
How do you achieve the ethereal quality of your pictures? The most important parts of my work are the feelings and stories behind the photographs. Most, if not all my work is very personal to me and I believe my feelings are there inside the photographs. I tend to shoot in rural places and love putting models in rivers, streams and trees, I’m not a hippy but I love being around nature, it’s so refreshing coming from London. Photographing around nature makes the pictures timeless, people don’t know when or where they were taken, I like the thought of the unknown.
You mentioned these photographs were inspired by your grandfather and Vietnam… During the summer of 2010 I travelled to Vietnam to say goodbye and attend the death ceremony of my grandfather. At this time I had just finished a project on my father and I saw it as a continuation of that, almost like a timeline. I found the Buddhist crematorium process and religious views on death very interesting. They believe that the body isn’t important, merely a form that carries the soul. The details interested me, such as the thick black smoke burning from an oil lit candle guiding him to the afterworld that couldn’t be blown out otherwise he would lose his way. The hardest and most intriguing part was that we were not allowed to show any sadness because it was thought that it would hold him back from going on to the afterworld. Throughout these new experiences I had been photographing every moment I could. Not many people get to see those documented photographs but they were my inspiration for the final images when I returned to London.
What is it about nature that attracts you to photograph it in this way? Momento Mori, Latin for, Remember you will die. It’s only natural.
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever photographed? Life in whatever form. I think documenting through life is something that no one can copy from me because only I have experienced the moments I choose to photograph. It’s quite an odd thing to look back at. It can be a happy or sad experience revisiting old memories. Re-photographing them and turning them into fashion stories, is like writing for me. I am “writing” stories inspired by life.