The Wick - Maryam Eisler, Iceland Portrait The Wick - Maryam Eisler, Iceland Portrait
Monday Muse

Interview London-based photographer and author Maryam Eisler

Interview
Maryam Eisler
17 March 2021
Interview
Maryam Eisler
17 March 2021
Believing that artists have always been visual recorders of history, Maryam Eisler has used the global pandemic and resulting quarantine to create a new series of work, capturing artists in their own private spaces digitally. The online exhibition sees the contributing editor team up once again with LUX magazine. She is also currently working on a film with Oscar-winning creative director Tim Yip, in the capacity of creative producer, sits on the advisory board of Photo London and is an ambassador for Unseen Amsterdam photography fair. Previously, she co-chaired Tate’s Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee for a decade and is also a former member of the Tate International Council and the Guggenheim Middle East Circle.

THE WICK:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

Maryam Eisler:   Forugh Farrokhzad, the iconic female poet of modern Iran, often referred to as Iran’s Sylvia Plath. A rebel of her time, she exemplified the epitome of feminine intellectual power and sexual liberation at a time in the late 60s when everything around literature and the arts was dominated by men. Her poetry was one of protest and inner revelation. Her expressions of intimacy placed her at the heart of controversy. She died in a car crash on 13 February 1967 at the tender age of 32. I think she would have been a good friend.

TW:   How did you move from art lover and collector to photographer and publisher?

ME:   Art, in all its forms, has been a constant, loyal and liberating companion throughout my life. After years of being involved with several artistic institutions’ boards and advisory councils but also supporting artists who have inspired me, I naturally transitioned to the other side of the equation. At first, through art publications focused on artists and their studios – a hands-on process that deeply furthered my personal arts education and connection with creators. More than 450 studio visits and interviews later, across the globe, I felt the urge to create myself and to tell my own stories, by pursuing and making public a lifelong passion turned obsession, photography. It took me 48 years to have the courage to embrace and share my own work. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to do so. Today, I walk, talk and dream of the next series, the next adventure.

TW:   If money was no object, what one photograph or piece of artwork would you like to own?

ME:   A large part of my own work is concentrated on the sublime feminine. With that in mind, one of the greatest examples of this thematic in my view is Helmut Newton’s ‘Charlotte Rampling at the Hotel Nord-Pinus, Arles’, 1973.

[It combines an] iconic era, timeless and classic beauty, a dreamy location and a heightened mood of mystery and sensuality, the like of which only Newton was capable of creating. I would love to have it hanging on my wall.

TW:   As the world became increasingly fractured during the pandemic, you did a huge amount to connect and unite people. Tell us about your favourite lockdown project.

ME:   My favourite project was carried out in collaboration with LUX magazine at the very beginning of the first London lockdown in early 2020. The project, Confined Artists – Free Spirits: Photographs from Lockdown, lasted from April to July 2020, a three-month period during which I freeze-framed an epic moment in history by FaceTime – photographing, interviewing and exploring the psyche of 165 iconic artists across the globe.

The effort translated into a diary which in effect gathered the collective memory of some of humanity’s greatest thinkers during an unprecedented moment, but also during a new wave of civil unrest and malaise in the US at that very same time.

What transpired as a common thread throughout the profiles was a deep desire for us all to come together, connect at a very basic level, and to seek a better self, concentrating on our commonalities rather than our differences. What the project also reinforced was that somewhere in our DNA lies the unique human need and ability to create and to find solutions in creation, despite any adverse environment.

These images and accompanying thoughts reveal very personal, delicate and emotional moments; honest and forthright, direct and inspiring, intermingled with the pain of sorrow borne by each one of us. But most importantly, it is my sincere belief that these are messages of hope and renewal.

Another favourite lockdown project took place in late February, late at night during lockdown. It was a collaboration with Prima Ballerina, Michaela Meazza and designer Meihui Liu. I photographed Michaela dancing majestically and euphorically throughout stark empty London streets, in the heart of St James and Piccadilly … until we were abruptly stopped by the police and asked whether what we were doing was considered essential! It certainly felt essential for our mental well-being and our basic human need for connection and spontaneous creative freedom. Despite the circumstances and a clear attack on our individual freedoms, we created something beautiful – images which we hope are dynamic, expressive and hopeful and which we have enjoyed sharing with the public at large.

“It took me 48 years to have the courage to embrace and share my own work. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to do so.”

TW:   What book would you gift to someone right now?

ME:   The book I would pass on today as a gift is the beautifully illustrated and newly published Clara and the Magic Circles by Cavan Mahony. It’s an extraordinary story of transformation and imagination, a journey of self-discovery and newfound strength, and a definite inspiration for both little girls and women to spread their wings and soar, regardless of age and circumstance.

TW:   When we can next travel, where would top your list?

ME:   Lockdown and travel restrictions have reinforced my need to reconnect with big nature, where I feel I can best liberate both my mind and my heart. As such, I dream of travelling to the Salar de Uyuni [the world’s largest salt flat] in Bolivia to experience the spectacular optical marvel of the sky and clouds becoming one with the desert’s reflective salt beds, far from the madding crowd.

TW:   As an artist, photographer, author and creator, which current project are you most excited about?

ME:   The project I am most excited about right now is my recent shoot in Leighton House, a historic London home I hold very dear to my heart and a location I had always dreamt of using as a backdrop to a new photo series. The result: an imaginary and phantasmagorical fairytale, bordering the film noir genre, with a touch of the 70s and Eastern aesthetics. The plan is to translate these images into a show, curated by the wonderful Carrie Scott during Photo London in September 2021.

TW:   Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

ME:   I would like to share another lockdown project, this time charitable, the Republic of Youmanity, which I was so honoured to initiate alongside my regular partners in crime and trusted friends, art patrons Shirley Elghanian and Maria Sukkar and award-winning photographer David Taggart. In November 2020, as the city went into lockdown once again, together with the help of more than 40 retailers within our community in Chelsea and Kensington, we transformed empty shop windows into a communal pop-up gallery, featuring photographs by David whose work is focused entirely on humanity. We then sold editions of 50 images online, generously donated to the project by the artist, and raised £35,000 in aid of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. What the project re-emphasised to me was the importance of community and human connectivity, but also and most importantly the power of friendship and teamwork.


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