Sarah Jarrett is a visual artist based in the United Kingdom. She won the grand prize at the Mobile Photography Awards as Photographer and Artist of the year in 2012. Her pieces are otherworldly and enigmatic representations of reality and its deceptive qualities as seen through the lens of a visionary. Sarah’s images are capable of questioning commonly accepted notions of social roles and personal identity; her portraits are particularly memorable, mixing techniques and vivid color palettes in visual pastiches that are both lyrical and blatant.
We approached Sarah Jarrett with great eagerness to learn more about her personal ideas about art applied to mobile platforms. As many iPhone and iPad “converts”, Sarah started making art in the old analog days, when tools and materials were more demanding under many points of view. “I did my degree in Photography at Art College in London but it was entirely film and paper based. Digital didn’t exist,” she recalls.
Jarrett’s visions are fascinating in their way of blending painting and photography. Sometimes it’s hard for the viewer to make out which is which, but this does not take anything away from the artwork’s final impact. “I think it’s quite difficult to label and define what my work is,” Jarrett concedes, “I see it as photographic, but it quite often incorporates digital painting. I am an artist who uses photography but I am not a straight photographer, I’m always interested in manipulation and I was when I was making prints from film, except that then I was physically painting on the surface of prints with oils and acrylics.” Photography therefore is still the most recognizable lead to interpret and appraise Jarrett’s iPhone art. As she says, “The photographic image is still central to everything I make. I’m not interested in just straight digital painting; I’m drawn to building something amazing through manipulation.”
Sarah’s love for photography was born long before college. In fact, she explains how photography was an important part of her childhood. “My relationship with photography goes back over thirty years. It’s been in my life since I was a child. My dad always took pictures and was really interested in photography; I was given a camera by my grandmother when I was about 10 years old. Before my mum and dad had a family, they were serious climbers and travelled all over the world. My dad shot everything on slides and I remember loving to look at these heavy glass slides in boxes showing fantastic mountain landscapes. I was inspired early on.”
Sarah recalls her transition to mobile, “I think I started to shoot with mobile technology in 2008 but I didn’t start editing seriously with apps until the end of 2010.” And regarding how she got acquainted with her current tools of choice, she reveals, “It was long distance running that got me interested in iPhone. I wanted to shoot landscapes on my runs and it was easier to have a lightweight portable device in my pocket than trying to take a bulky SLR. It was very unfashionable to declare that you shot on a mobile device at that time. Now it’s completely changed and is a genre in its own right. It’s been very interesting watching its evolution.”
Sarah Jarrett’s images, besides being visually captivating, are intriguing for their symbolic nuances. “I’m very interested in making images that suggest a story of some kind,” the artist says, “My portraits often depict women with facades and masks with an underlying sadness and emptiness underneath, I am interested in exploring our enduring obsession with beauty but also in suggesting it’s a mask and that beauty always fades however we try to delay it. Many of my portraits start from a self-portrait.” Jarrett’s taste shows a coherent but eclectic background; as she explains, “I’m heavily influenced by painting and contemporary illustration, by fashion and the history of costume and dress. My ‘Cool Britannia‘ series started off this idea. I was constructing portraits that reflected British Youth Culture. In contrast a lot of my landscape pictures are quite dreamlike and evocative, completely devoid of human intervention.”
Sarah’s portfolio is so rich the eye can get lost while exploring it. How can an artist like her constantly keep receptive and productive? “I spend a huge amount of time researching ideas and getting inspiration,” she tells us, “I look at all sorts of blogs and Flickr streams to see what other people are doing, I buy cards all the time of contemporary illustration and I’m always in the oversize book section at the library.” As she clarifies, her research is an active stage in her creative process, “I cannot work in a bubble; I like to feel really inspired. In my studio I stick swatches of colours, cards and images on the walls so I’m constantly feeding my creative thoughts.” Then she concludes, “I never plan an artwork in advance — it evolves as I develop an image, but it’s obviously fed by whatever inspires me at the time.”
When I ask her if there are other tools she likes to use, she replies, “I teach Art and Design part time and always have done since Art College, so for that side of my work I am always painting, building in clay, paper mache, weaving, dyeing, etc. I think that undoubtedly feeds my ideas too.” About working with digital media, she says “I edited completely with Photoshop before I began using apps, but now I work only with iPhone and iPad.”
Differently from many iPhone artists and photographers, who admit being on the lookout for new tools and quirks all the time and often take pride in expanding their app collection continuously, Sarah is very focused as far as her tools are concerned. “I do all my pictures with the same five apps,” and she points out, “I’m really selective about apps and am only interested in those that seem really purposeful and creative. I use Superimpose for all my collage work and Procreate to do all my artwork. I use Laminar and Miracam to do editing tweaks once an image is made.” She then adds, “I became a Beta tester because I wanted to suggest ideas in the development of an app.”
New technologies, like the Arts, are about trial and error, this is why promoting a new medium is essential to its success. Detractors will never miss a chance to criticize, but in spite of their negativity, reasons for enthusiasm abound. As Jarrett puts it, “What’s going on with iPhoneography is incredibly exciting and it’s thanks to the amazing vision of Nate and Daria at IPA and Dan Berman at the Mobile Photo Awards who are promoting the possibilities of mobile technology beyond ‘the snapshot’.”
Sarah sees limitless possibilities for those ready to try different paths; the only way leading to artistic accomplishment is to give art time and space to develop. Her advice to beginners is to “Keep trying different ideas and experiment, look at the work of others and be inspired, ask questions – there are lots of helpful forums. If you keep going you will begin to develop your own style. Apps are getting better and better all the time.”
All images courtesy of Sarah Jarrett.