Maryam Eisler on location

Reimagining Edward Weston Through the Lens of Maryam Eisler

As her exhibition opens at the Tristan Hoare gallery in London, we sit down with Maryam Eisler to discuss her new photographic series, inspired by the life and work of Edward Weston.

When did your interest in photography first begin?

My interest with photography began when I was ten years old, whilst visiting a Man Ray exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. His Rayographs simply mesmerised me.

Do you remember a particular work that ignited your passion in the medium?

The object which ignited my passion in the medium in later years is a 1960 book , entitled Corps Memorables, which visually compiles the work of three friends and contemporaries: sensual poems by Paul Eluard coupled with 12 black and white photographs of nudes in the ocean by Lucien Clergue, under a beautiful cover illustrated by no other than Picasso! This was the first book of nude photography allowed to be sold publicly in Paris. I am lucky enough to own a copy of this masterpiece, and have it proudly on display in a cabinet at home.

Maryam Eisler on location
Maryam Eisler. Courtesy Tristan Hoare Gallery

In your current project, you have made images that explore the legacy of Edward Weston. Where did the idea for this series come from?

The idea of the series came from my obsession with Edward Weston’s photographic oeuvre, especially after reading Volume 1 on Mexico of his Day Books. Weston lived in Mexico between 1923 and 1927, an intense period of creativity and self-analysis, but also a period of intense passion with his muse, activist and fellow photographer, Tina Modotti. The ‘unknown horizons’ as he calls it in his diaries, produced many opportunities for creative banter but also connectivity with some of the greatest intellectuals of his time, to include Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. This took place during an intense period of intellectual bohemian rhapsody, at the wake of the Mexican Revolution.

Maryam Eisler, Imagining Tina: A Dialogue With Edward Weston. © Maryam Eisler.

How did it feel to be making images in the very place that Weston lived and worked?

In my search for the holy grail of photography, I found myself visiting Edward Weston’s home on Wildcat Hill near Carmel in May 2017, searching for location and inspiration. I remember standing on hallowed ground, mesmerised, beside Kim Weston, Edward’s grandson and a most acclaimed photographer in his own right — in Edward’s original dark room with his handwritten notes and chemical potions and formulations still stuck on the walls of the darkroom.

Maryam Eisler, from the series Imagining Tina: A Dialogue With Edward Weston. © Maryam Eisler.

Here, Edward had printed Pepper No 30 and his 1936 Nude in Doorway, images that have preoccupied my mind for the majority of my adult artistic life. This is also where magic happened under the guiding hand of Kim Weston for the next four days, as Kim and I talked, baked, ate and walked through Edward’s personal spaces, exploring his psyche and sensibilities. And then I saw a pair of beautifully decorated Terracotta candle stick holders which Edward brought back with him from Mexico in 1926 sitting proud atop the mantelpiece…if only the walls could talk.

Maryam Eisler, from the series Imagining Tina: A Dialogue With Edward Weston. © Maryam Eisler.

Your work often centres around explorations of form, be that architecture, landscape or the human body – and very much rooted in the modernist tradition – such as your series Linear Emotion: Mykonos or The Sublime Feminine – how do you begin to conceive a project?

At the beginning of every one of my photographic projects, there is light. I seek it in all its various forms, variety of ‘colours’ and intensities, across a plethora of continents and landscapes. I often speak of my photography as ‘painting with light’, something I learned in the dark room when printing photographs manually over twenty years ago. My light is always natural, never artificial. And at the core of my work lies the Sublime Feminine, in the form of body architecture or body geometry, as I like to call it, with curvilinear forms connecting or contrasting with space and place. Woman and nature often come together in a pure and monastic manner.

Maryam Eisler, from the series Imagining Tina: A Dialogue With Edward Weston. © Maryam Eisler.

As well working on your own photography, you are very active on the boards of several museums, fairs and prizes such as Tate, Delfina Foundation and Photo London. Can you talk a little bit about your work in these roles?

I like working with and supporting museums and institutions, as they are the custodians of our collective memories and a recorder of our times, histories and personal stories. Without artistic institutions, nothing remains and nothing stands the test of time and history. They singlehandedly ensure our creative legacy.

As an image-maker yourself, do you collect art that is closely aligned with the work you make, or things that are aesthetically very different to your own practice?

The works I love surrounding myself with at home are mostly figurative, with a strong sensual palette, intricate textures and complex psyches. They no doubt influence and inform my own creative production.

Maryam Eisler, from the series Imagining Tina: A Dialogue With Edward Weston. © Maryam Eisler.

You travel extensively in the course of your work. Where in the world have you been most surprised by you what you found there?

I always joke with friends that I travel the world searching for Eve! This often leads to barren and isolated environments which bring me at one with nature, a nature which often resembles what earth may have looked like at the the beginning of time… Desolate Icelandic moss covered rolling dunes, a hostile New Mexico desert, Big Sur and its serenity, an abandoned jagged edged stone quarry in Provence. These journeys are also often journeys of pure reflection and self-discovery, away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Gilbert & George in a spread from Maryam Eisler's Voices: East London. Courtesy Thames and Hudson.

Your book, Voices: East London, beautifully captured a host of creative people in their local environment. Do you collect interesting encounters with people as well as art?

My goal with every project, whether it be fine art photography or book production is first and foremost a story of connections. Creative and soulful connections with humanity.

What piece of advice would you give to someone hoping to start a collection of photography?

My advice to someone starting to collect photography: Eye, soul, substance and story!

What is next for Maryam Eisler?

Voices: East London comes to life in Bicester Village in March 2019. Watch this space! And, I am also particularly excited about my first upcoming institutional solo exhibition at Fotografiska, a new venue for photographic appreciation opening in London's Whitechapel area in Autumn of 2019.

Maryam Eisler’s Imagining Tina: A Dialogue With Edward Weston is at Tristan Hoare gallery from 7 February - 2 March 2019.

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