Sarah Pannell

Community update with Sarah Pannell

Sarah Pannell was a participant in our 2018 residency How to Flatten a Mountain. She is an Australian visual artist whose work concerns culture, landscape, tradition, and community. Sarah received a BA in International Studies from Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia in 2009 and a BA in Photography, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia in 2012.

Curiosity spurs Pannell to travel as often as she can to where she can observe and explore shifting cultures and changing spaces. This fascination with humans’ ever-evolving dance with their surrounding environments has led to an array of projects focussing on everyday life, preservation of traditions and communities around the world. Sarah’s soft and human gaze aims to diffuse and enrich perspectives of cultures and societies that are often overwhelmingly shrouded in negativity by outside eyes.

We most recently caught up with Sarah at The Library Project during her book launch for Tabriz to Shiraz published by Perimeter Editions and Hillvale in 2019. Sarah has kindly taken some time to provide thoughtful answers to a few of our questions.


CHS: What are some memories from your time here at Cow House and in Ireland generally? Are there a few words you can share about the body of work From A Busy Present that you made while you were here?

SP: The residency was truly a special time for me and my photography. It came at a really pivotal time for me personally, and it turned out to be a great opportunity to challenge my practice – primarily by shooting in black and white, which is not usual for me. I had experience printing and developing in the darkroom, but it wasn’t common practice for me as I almost always shoot in color. But when I arrived in Ireland, and particularly in Wexford at Cow House, I knew that shooting B&W and really utilizing your incredible darkroom facilities was the way to go. It felt natural, and as I began to shoot, I was viewing things in monotone and concentrating more on form and composition.

Every day at Cow House was a treat. The people, the landscape, the food (Catriona!), the studios, the animals, the light, the atmosphere. It felt conducive to productivity and making work.

From A Busy Present developed organically. Frank, you really helped me with my printing, and from the initial few rolls I shot and developed, it felt really great to see what I was shooting as I went along, and once I left the farm and starting shooting in nearby towns, the slow and quiet narrative formed.

CHS: Travel seems to be particularly important to you. How do you choose the places where you travel? Do you have specific ideas in mind before you depart?

SP: I’ve always just intuitively followed my gut in regards to places I choose to travel to. I have a longstanding fascination and interest in the Middle East in particular, and the East, in general, having spent last year traveling deeper in Eastern Europe, following on from previous time spent in the Balkans and Turkey. I studied Middle Eastern history and politics, which led to my focus on Iran and the region as a whole.

In regards to ideas, yes, at the very least, I’ll spend time researching the general history and socio-political fabric of a country or region prior to visiting, and usually, I already have an idea of my approach and what I’m going to try to focus on photographically.

Also, it’s important to not ignore budget constraints when it comes to working as an artist and, more than often, self-funding my projects and travels. There are some places that I would love to visit and photograph but being realistic about how far you can stretch your savings is important.

CHS: What have you been working on most recently? Can you describe a bit about your process and the themes you’ve been exploring?

SP: I spent 5 months of 2019 in Europe and Iran, and I shot the beginnings of a range of new projects throughout Eastern Europe and Turkey, and I returned to Iran to continue my long term project there. To be honest, it’s now February, and it has been over 5 months, and I’m still gradually working my way through these photographs and trying to decide what to do with a lot of it. I did have a solo show in Melbourne titled ‘New Harvest’ in December, which consisted of 7 works produced during the year in a range of locations. The general themes revolve around ideas relating to the preservation of traditions, particularly in regard to food and celebrations. In addition, I have been broadly working on a range of photo essays about the various impacts of tourism around the world. This is slow-moving as I’m focussing on presenting a range of case studies that explore themes such as sustainability, cultural sensitivity, and the environment in regards to tourism.

CHS: You recently published the fantastic photobook Tabriz to Shiraz. Can you tell us a bit about this project? Was this body of work always intended to be a book? What were some of the challenges in putting a publication together?

SP: Thank you 🙂 In 2007, during my undergrad, I took a course about 20th-century Iranian studies and found myself fascinated and a little shocked by the country’s turbulent history. I continued to focus on Middle Eastern studies throughout my degree, and Iran was always a place I felt determined to visit, as I was curious about the western attitudes towards Iran and trying to challenge these misconceptions through visual means. Having spent time with a number of Iranian friends, I became interested in the concept of ‘Iranian hospitality,’ and that starting idea led me to my current project, which is still in progress and is a more intimate and personal exploration of Iran from my outsiders perspective.

Tabriz to Shiraz is a result of a lengthy selection process between my publishers (Perimeter Editions and Hillvale) and I. As we were working a book layout with my images for the long term project regarding hospitality and its importance in Iranian culture, we began to divide the images into a number of categories and found that we had a lot of outliers which didn’t quite fit in with the broader project, but they were strong on their own account. So we split the work into two or more projects and released the first chapter as Tabriz to Shiraz, which is the book you see now. Budget constraints make publishing tricky, but I was lucky to have support from Perimeter’s co-publishing partner, Hillvale, who was a huge help in funding the printing costs.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to shoot and develop the next series, most recently returning in August/September 2019. Considering the events of the past few months in Iran, I feel continuing to pursue the work is as important as ever.

CHS: You participated in our residency How to Flatten a Mountain in 2018 and were part of a particularly tight-knit group. Have you maintained many personal and/or professional relationships from this experience?

SP: It really was tight-knit and made the residency so special. Yes, I’ve kept in touch with a few people in particular (Instagram helps!) and was lucky enough to meet up with Sarah and Frank 🙂 when I returned to Dublin last May and a few months later the stars aligned and Ana and I found ourselves in Berlin together which was wonderful. I’m certainly planning to visit Ana in Mexico when I get the chance and end up over that side of the world!

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