Interview: Sarah Wu

Sarah Wu is a photographer and art director based out of Columbus, OH, USA. Much of her work stems from her desire to blend the heavily commercialized industries of beauty and fashion photography into a much more personalized, concept-based approach with images that feel like poignant dreams and emotions. 

What is it you can depict through photography that other means of communication don’t allow for?

I think that growing up as a child, I struggled a lot with connecting to other people and maintaining friendships. I’d often prefer to spend time alone and retreat to an imaginary world where I felt safe enough to express myself creatively. This year especially I have grown in learning how to better articulate myself and my ideas, but photography has been my main outlet to express those emotions, memories, and concepts that I otherwise find difficult to share openly, and assign words to. Whether I am taking a self portrait or working with a more mainstream brand, my work usually weaves in my own personal story. 

You often tell stories through your images. What is your personal favorite story?

A good story has the power to challenge people’s previously held perspectives and provide a new narrative path. I think creating stories is the most exciting aspect to my work, and I enjoy telling stories and reading those of others. My favorite story is probably The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett. I relate to the main character’s struggle to belong, to be seen, and her curious, adventurous spirit. Plus, who wouldn’t want a secret garden?!

Do you prefer shooting women? Why is that?

That’s a tough one. I think that by being highly in tune with my own femininity, I feel more connected to women than men when shooting. But I would love to shoot someone more androgynous or a man who isn’t afraid to show his feminine side. 

Make-up by Emily Blum @The_Real_Miss_Emily

What was your best experience as a photographer so far?

Every shoot has its own bit of magic, but the best experience I had was actually when I was still a student in college. I came back home for Winter break and knew I had to shoot with a former classmate of mine. She’s very beautiful- definitely reminded me of my favorite model Lily Cole. I called a few places and got permission to shoot in not one but two amazing locations for the day. First, we shot in my old elementary school that was in the process of being completely torn down. The classrooms were skeletons of their former working selves; fallen bricks, disheveled floorboards, and torn wallpaper were all exposed. There were so many nooks and crannies to explore and each room had its own personality, even in the midst of being removed. This aspect was similarly reflected in the second location we went to; a former bed and breakfast in my hometown that had since been retired to showcase the massive collection of dolls and victorian furnishings of its owner. Looking back, I wish I would have reserved more time for both locations, but I feel incredibly grateful for each of the care-takers opening their hearts and personal spaces for me to photograph. Maybe I’ll go back one of these days! 

Where do you usually get inspiration from?

The world is my playground; I draw inspiration from pretty much everyone and everything. 

What would you like to work on next?

I’m actually currently working on publishing my first book of self-portraits! It’s certainly been a challenging/rewarding process as I teach myself new programs and get into the design world. Looking forward though, I’d like to expand my portfolio to include conceptual still lifes.