Sara Armas started studying darkroom photography at age twelve and eventually finished a BFA in 2006 from Maine College of Art. In 2014, she finished an MA in photography from Barry University, and recently she also completed an MA in art history at Oklahoma State University. She currently resides in Belgium, where she divides her time between independent research for a PhD at KU Leuven, and her studio practice. Sara’s work has come to focus generally on women’s issues, growing out of a ten year period in Miami of self-portraiture and documentary practice. She has also explored alternative processes and shot for humanitarian purposes. Sara has exhibited at the ICA, Art Basel, Lens Culture, and Loosen Art Rome. She has presented her work at the MOCA Miami, was published as a finalist in Photography Forum’s Best of 2015, and has published a scholarly article in the Royal Photographic Society (London, 2016).
For more information on her main body of work, read on…or follow the blog to stay updated on her current adventures!
The Supposed Glamour Project (2002-2008)
Beginning in 2002 she worked on a seven year documentary called the "Supposed Glamour Project.” This started out as a very idealized look at her and her friend’s lives within club culture, living out of cars and hotels. At this moment in time, digital cameras were very new, as was the ability to see images on the LCD screen as they were made. This offered a kind of voyeuristic instant gratification and allowed us to see everything as it happened from a semi-removed point of view. Sara and several of her girlfriend’s worked in the sex industry or as servers in the night-club scene, so the idea of performing for the camera was almost automatic. In 2006, Sara exhibited this work as her BFA thesis at the ICA Portland, and subsequently continued the project after graduation. Over time, the images became darker as Sara delved deeper into the party scene. In 2008, her partner of 4 years overdosed in front of her, almost dying, and Sara dropped out of the lifestyle completely, discontinuing the project as well.
Playing Dress Up (2008-2016)
Shortly thereafter, Sara began creating constructed allegorical portraits using fairy tales mixed with personal memory and trauma to examine the consequences of the choices women make, dressing herself or friends up to be the different characters we had played in our lives. Sara purposely objectified women throughout the body of work, emulating popular visual culture wherein the woman is often sexualized and represented only as a fragment of the whole. She was interested in how compartmentalized women are between roles as domestic partners, sexual objects, relations, mothers, etc, and how lonely and isolated women can feel when these roles aren't integrated. Women in the sex industry experience this to an extreme and, as Sara was experiencing for herself, it became very difficult to integrate mentally and physically back into a "normal" life.
These images began to translate into a larger interest in women's tendency toward self-sabotage, performance of identity or sexuality, and a fascination with the industrialization of beauty. For example, women in every circumstance put themselves through painful and expensive processes to exaggerate their sexuality and fertility, to create a façade of society’s definitions. This interest resulted in a series of 4x5 images in which the woman are removed completely from the image, leaving her to be a presence just outside the frame. In place of the figure are objects of industrialized beauty and performance that are easily recognized, such as stiletto heels, hair extensions, makeup and lingerie. In this work the domestic environment was also no longer the backdrop; instead, Sara used areas on the fringes of suburbia. Here, the objects replace women, acting as evidence of her presence and the tragedies that occur, especially for those who find themselves outside the "norm." Shooting with a 4x5 meant slowing down and working more thoughtfully, almost meditative. As much as these images are portraits, they are also urban landscapes that reflect how, as a society we project ourselves, our short comings and desire for perfection onto our equally-untamable surroundings.
Public Space and Still: Women Unsafe (M.A. Thesis 2014)
In 2013, Sara followed an independent study of feminist history, theory, literature and art, specifically focusing on photography and film. The final project and paper explored street harassment in urban areas by interviewing women and documenting their experiences being harassed and even assaulted. Using past artists' art and critical writing as inspiration, Sara combined recorded interviews, video and photographic stills taken on the streets and public transit systems of Miami, to create a short film that examines the ever growing, socially accepted and widely ignored, culture of men verbally and physically harassing women in public. The film explores and defines such problems as rape, rape culture, stalking and harassment, as a means to illustrate why street harassment is both a dangerous trend in our society and psychologically harmful to women.
Re:Constructions (2016 - present)
In 2014, Sara experienced a period of severe depression, which radically changed her life and therefore her artistic interests. As a part of completing her second M.A. in art history, Sara had the chance to take a photo elective, and decided to reflect on the experience of bipolar disorder especially with regard to her previous focus and subject matter. Re:Constructions represents new, fresh experimentation with old, established method of working; a search for a visual language for psychotic depression, bordering on schizophrenia, as Sara experienced it intensely for about a year. The beginnings of this work is displayed on the Lens Culture website here, where one can see how this work has grown from Playing Dress Up, and where it begins to diverge. This work is currently ongoing, with a side series called “Self-portraits in Psychosis” in which Sara has looked back on old, more casually made self-portraits, to see if and where the symptoms of her illness are apparent.
Portraits for Puerto Rico (September 2017 - March 2018)
“Portraits for Puerto Rico” was begun shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated several Caribbean Islands in September 2017. The original intention was to travel and interview Islanders on the mainland about their thoughts and feelings of the situation, as well as to put a spotlight on private civilians and micro-NGOs trying to raise funds and send supplies to the islands. The hope was to raise awareness, compassion and more support for Islanders, a large number whom still suffer without electricity, running water and services. As this work unfolded, Sara was given the opportunity to actually travel to Puerto Rico and stay with a micro-NGO to both assist them and witness their efforts first-hand. Sara traveled with them daily, documenting their work as well as making personal interviews and portraits with affected residents of the island. At one point, Sara was able to personally advocate for a family who had lost their house and has a teenager with cancer, working with a contact in FEMA to expedite their case, as well as to schedule a visit from the Red Cross, so that they could receive needed support sooner.
The final result was a small self-published book available on Blurb and Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity. Each portrait comes with a quote from the interview, something profound or an issue that seemed most important to the interviewee. Those that didn’t want their portrait taken are instead represented by a photo of the place where the interview took place. The project was entirely self-funded, with a few small donations from family and close friends.
Currently - Alt Process
Currently, Sara is working on an alternative lab at her home in Belgium in the hopes of picking up where she left off with the project called “The Path” and exploring alt process further. She plans to use city and landscapes shot around the EU for this work since she is already immersed, and heavily inspired, by the environment and architecture. This work represents a radical departure for Sara from her previous body of work in that it is less digitally and commercially orientated, and more craft/process focused. In this way, the prints and experimentation symbolize the growth and maturity that Sara has experienced over the last few years as she has used her lens and film to suss out her inner struggles (for instance in the project “Re:Constructions) as well as come to terms with the violence of the world surrounding her (for instance during her MA thesis, “Public Space…”), in search for inner peace and stability. Additionally, after her time in Puerto Rico, Sara has come to appreciate a more minimalist approach to life and expectations, which is also reflected in her desire to focus on the simplicity of craft and the print as object, more than a political statement as it used to be.