Suzanne Saroff Still life food photographs distorted by glasses of water

Cover Image - Suzanne Saroff
WordsAlix-Rose Cowie

Photographer Suzanne Saroff counts a single orange as the inspiration behind her latest series. The fruit was sitting behind a glass of water in her New York City kitchen and as she walked by, she noticed how it seemed to dance through the glass.

Her first reaction was to try and capture the scene with her phone, but the optical illusion didn’t translate. That’s when she decided she needed to explore the phenomenon formally, which led to her series Perspective which is all about seeing things in unexpected ways.

“I am a visual person and have a strong attention to odd details in everyday life," she says. And so, inspired by the dancing orange in her kitchen, she filled glasses with water at different heights to get different effects on the objects she placed behind them.

The way the glass magnifies and abstracts the objects offers a new perspective on the familiar. Her subjects, from pieces of papaya to a glistening fresh fish are all “items that people interact with in a casual manner,” Suzanne says. “Food and flowers are such visceral things that we all need and know. There is a beauty to their rawness and imperfection. There is also a beauty to being able to grab my subjects from the grocery store when an idea emerges, or be inspired by something while shopping.”

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These objects she finds at the store, attracted by their vibrant colors or interesting shapes, she brings into the studio. All of her distorted still-lifes are shot with studio lights, except for the bananas, where sunlight plays against the glass vessels adding extra allure.

“I realised the way the light was coming in through the window was so perfect and I had to capture what was happening,” Suzanne says. “As much as I love the technicality of the studio, natural light can create a je ne sais quoi magic.”

For personal projects like Perspective, Suzanne works alone doing all the conceptualising, styling and shooting herself. It’s an organic way of working. “These series become quite meditative,” she says. “This allows for concepts to develop as I shoot, and it allows shooting to happen whenever there is a spark or an urge to do so.”

These urges can come from just about anywhere – “that orange in the kitchen, someone’s outfit on the subway, a piece of trash in the street, an old film.” At times the spark of inspiration will be so strong that it triggers an immediate action; at other times her ideas lie dormant for a while, until something like some unexpected free time gives her space to pursue them.

She juggles her job as a photo art director at an agency with her personal projects, but that takes discipline and dedication.

“I have learned that my own self-initiated work is necessary.” she says. “As a creative person, it is so important to have a outlet and expression that is my own. Sometimes it’s hard after a busy or stressful day to make time for it, but I have found that once I get into a rhythm, it becomes necessary and I crave it. When I am shooting something that draws me in, nothing else matters.”

Words by Alix-Rose Cowie