Eleonora Sabet Shows You the Essential Ingredients of Moving Portrait Photography

Eleonora Sabet’s black and white portrait are an ode to the natural. Mixing self-portraiture with portraits of non-professional models, the Milan-born photographer now based in Amman, Jordan focuses on putting into an image moments that reveal the authenticity of character.

Straddling the spheres of reportage and portraiture, Eleonora’s work is a refreshing injection of honesty in a world with a tendency for misrepresentation. Her work with NGOS in the Middle East and Africa have furthered her commitment to sincerity.

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In our interview, we discussed the artistry behind making a portrait stand out.

THE PLUS: Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your process behind a shoot? Do you have a concept in mind before you start?
Eleonora Sabet:
For me it’s fundamental to represent or narrate reality. For instance, my self-portraits are not studied – I want to capture the mood I have in the moment I take the picture. For me, taking self-portraits has always been a necessity turned into a photograph.

As for the portraits that I make of other subjects, they are never posed. I rarely work with professional models because for me, what is really important is to tell a story that reflects the reality of the subject. So no, I don’t start from a concept but from the relationship that I can establish with the person during the shooting.

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TP: When you work with a model, what defines a successful shoot?
ES:
The best shots, or better, the ones I prefer are always the most natural. I love the photographs in which the subjects look into the lens, certainly this feature, regardless of whether the photo is 100% natural or not, for me it makes it a winning shot.

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TP: Having taken numerous self-portraits, what kind of things do you want people to know about you, or see in you?
ES:
My self-portraits are made for me, when I started years ago the last thing I thought about was to publish them online. This type of photograph does not have a specific purpose which includes the relationship between spectator and photographer. I realise them and I show them because I am not ashamed to show who I am or who I was.

TP: What makes a portrait work, in your opinion? What’s the key ingredient?
ES:
Naturalness, sincerity and aesthetic cleanliness.

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TP: Many of your images have a mysterious yet realistic quality to them. What’s behind the look and feel you go for with your portraits and self-portraits?
ES:
First of all, thanks for the compliment. I shoot completely in black and white and there is no real technical reason. I simply find it more satisfying on an aesthetic level and in some cases it helps the viewer to focus on the photo itself rather than on the colors.

For years I have tried to use and fine-tune colors in my photographs but I always find some difficulties. On an emotional and aesthetic level I don’t feel them as strong as a black and white photograph. As I wrote in the previous answer, aesthetic cleanliness is something that has always accompanied my photographs. I love very contrasted and clean portraits.

TP: Has your experience with reportage fed back into your personal work, at all?
ES:
At the beginning of 2018, I felt the strong need to leave Milan to focus on what for me is the representation of reality: reportage. Since I started travelling I have grown a lot on a human and photographic level, and when I go back to Italy to do commercial work I have many more ideas. I can say that reportage work has greatly helped my personal works.

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TP: How do you balance your artistic work with your humanitarian work? Do you see one as more important than the other?
ES:
They have the same importance because I like to represent reality in both cases. At this moment, I find it more stimulating to carry out humanitarian projects, to listen to stories that I have never experienced – and that in some cases, I hope to never have to – and to try to represent them in the most real and sincere way possible.

Despite the fact that I live in the Middle East, I still have the possibility of creating artistic projects. If I went back to living in Italy now I could do the same thing in reverse. The only difference is the cultural, social and political context.

TP: What’s your favourite non-photography-related thing to do?
ES:
Talking with people.

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