Emily Sheffer

Living Room from The Old World


Wavepool – A shifting sense of time can easily be sensed in your work, and it feels like the passage of time is both continuous and nonexistent simultaneously. Can you talk about what kind of timeline your images are placed in?

Emily Sheffer – When contemplating the unconscious, time is a fickle subject. Often times in retrospect, minutes can seem like hours, and years can go by in a moment. To emphasize this specific feeling, I intentionally made the images appear suspended in an undefined timeline. For example, signs of modern times do not appear in my images. (You would never see a microwave in any of the photos). I enjoy the sense of unrestricted discovery that can come from taking a step back from the bustle of daily life, into an older, slower and more focused world. I like to think that the title, The Old World, adds to the sense of a separate timeline from the present, one that allows for ruminations of the self, nature and, finally, where the two meet.

Wavepool – Can you elaborate on nature’s presence within the project? I’m curious about the concept because in my mind, the sequence feels very interior-oriented.

Emily Sheffer – I find myself drawn to aspects of the natural world within the home, and use this interest as a way to understand human’s inherent yearning for nature. Even though we build spaces around ourselves in order to become separate from nature, it seems to creep back in through floral motifs, landscape paintings, and picture windows. The landscape holds a power over human behavior that is unavoidable. We fear and respect it’s unpredictability. Perhaps bringing it into the domestic space is a way to tame something that is ultimately uncontrollable. This has been a long-standing tradition in terms of art history. For example, villa gardens in the Italian Renaissance were highly formalized and designed using geometric shapes to prove human influence over the natural world. This is referred to as “third nature”, something not wholly part of human or natural design, but somewhere in the middle. Inversely, the unpredictable beauty of nature evokes feelings of gratitude and joy that cannot be found in many other places. Perhaps surrounding ourselves with objects is simply a way to evoke these feelings.


Curls from The Old World


Wavepool – What role does the human figure play within the project?

Emily Sheffer – All of the photographs that include a figure are self-portraits. Even though the images are of myself, I think of the woman as a fictional character that I am building a narration around, rather than using the photos as a biographical tool. I used a single subject to increase the sense of interior isolation that runs throughout the project. The subject appears calm on the surface – an idealized and romanticized view of the self. But, deeper inspection reveals a tension just below the surface. Images of a woman alone in a home tend raise questions about domesticity and domestic partnerships, which is a topic that I am interested in exploring through my imagery. I want the viewer to ask questions about who she is, what her purpose is, and why she is alone.

Wavepool – Is the narrative left to the viewer’s discretion, or do you have something in mind that you’d like them to tap into?

Emily Sheffer – The narrative is left to the viewer’s discretion. I’m very interested in fictional narratives in reference to my work, for example, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but inspiration is where my interest in a narrative stops. I never want to tell the viewer exactly what to think; subtlety is very important to me.


Striped Wallpaper from The Old World


Wavepool – What are some other inspirations that you reference?

Emily Sheffer – I draw a lot of inspiration from the writing styles of a few favorite authors, especially Haruki Murakami. The way that he builds narrative through the inner thoughts of his characters really just gets to the point of whatever they are feeling, without any inhibition. It’s a very humanistic and strikingly simple approach. I’m sure that if he was a photographer, he would strictly be a portrait photographer.

Wavepool – Does the project have a set sequence or can the images be read in varying configurations and perhaps multiple narratives?

Emily Sheffer – Typically when sequencing a project, I make small (5″x7″) prints, and play around with the order of images for a long time. I love seeing what juxtaposed photos can bring out of one another. So, I suppose my sequences are fairly set in stone. Just as I would not change around the order of events in a book, I also wouldn’t change my image sequence. The possibility of multiple narratives, I believe, comes from how the individual reads the sequence as I have presented it.


Moon Mirror from The Old World


To see more, please visit Emily’s website.