The feminist photographer showing that real is better than perfect
Sarah Isaacs stands still and gazes towards her subject. There’s a shy smile and a laugh, as the woman standing nude behind a bouquet of flowers shares this vulnerable moment with the photographer. Isaacs ducks behind her camera. Setting and focusing her frame, she hopes to capture the essence of the moment. Her muse isn’t perfect, but she’s the real thing.
Her motivation for taking portraits of women as they are, hips, bums, blemishes and all, is to give her subjects power by celebrating the ordinary. She knows the feeling of being insecure. For the first five years of her photographic career, Isaacs struggled to explain, to herself and others, what type of photographer she was. The answer she eventually found is so beautifully simple. “I found security not in what I photograph but why, which is quite simply to make people feel happy,” she says.
Key to that “why” is women’s empowerment. The series of portraits she took of prominent South African women covered only by flora was for the Got Bush campaign, which sought to show the natural beauty of women and nature to raise awareness for the importance of planting indigenous trees. “I enjoy creating a space in which those I photograph feel seen, heard and accepted for precisely who they are, a space where they are not minimised to a single stereotype,” she explains. Discovering a steadfast sense of personal identity is crucial to all of our lives, but the struggle against society's expectations can be brutal. Isaacs has shown that we are stronger when we face it together.