Sara Latif’s images make use of three core elements: lighting, shadows and reflections. The results are striking and deeply personal, serving as a window into an artist's rich inner world replete with introspections and sentiments that many of us will find easy to relate to.
Sara's art, grounded in minimalism, is an exploration of an individual's relationship with the self while in solitude, where one's authenticity is fully felt. Through her images she seemingly seeks to do away with masks and expectations, and whole-heartedly welcomes light and shadow. Here's our interview with her.
Hi, Sara. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When did you start doing photography and what still draws you to it now?
My name is Sara Latif and I'm 27 years old. Born and still living in Lisbon, Portugal. I've been an amateur photographer for about 12 years, and have spent a good part of my life practicing, experimenting, and shooting the moments around me. From film to digital, and back again.
My photography journey started with film photography in a sad way. My dad had a roll camera that his family gave me when I was 12 years old, at his funeral. I never knew much about my father because he served his time in jail since I was a baby. So his camera was the only memory of him.
In my teenage years I took a multimedia and design course where I learned to develop film. Then there were the distinctive smells of the photo lab, notably the vinegarish perfume of acetic acid used in the stop bath and fixer.
The sights, sounds, and odours of a studio gave me, and many others I am sure, a warm homey feeling. So for the first time in years I took my father's camera out of the shelter and started buying film. I always went to the center of Lisbon to shoot strangers and places. Just completely fell in love when I developed my first film roll.
Back then, I didn’t have anyone telling me what was on trend or how I should shoot. I didn’t have other photographers to compare my work to. And, my goodness, was that ever empowering! No presets. No Instagram. Just me and my camera. I loved what I created, and it brought me pure joy. That was enough.
I've never been good with words, I've always been an introverted person who prefers and enjoys solitude. The reason that photography still is a big part of my life and always will be is because I feel I can speak perfectly with images rather than words. To me it is a language that everyone can understand.
Your work on Instagram mainly focuses on small instances, with great attention to angles and lighting. How did you develop this style and is there a deeper meaning for you exploring this style?
I've always had an interest in mirrors. I remember when I was younger I borrowed old mirrors from my grandma and took them in the woods for some experiments. I think mirrors give some kind of surreal scenario and open infinite possibilities to create. But I started playing with lighting and minimalist imagery not long ago, when I lost my job in 2020 during the lockdown.
That’s when I really took photography seriously and started creating my style without even knowing. I had the free time I've always wished for.
Many photographers struggle to find a style and ask me a lot how I found one. To me it was something natural, I was never looking to create a unique style, things happened naturally and a lot came from my personality traits. The lack of self-esteem, being a very introverted person, spending a lot of time in my thoughts.
I feel more comfortable focusing on my inner thoughts and ideas, rather than what's happening externally. All of that built up my photography style.
For me it is simple. I aim to make sure that each photograph that I take is in some way better than the one I took before. I try to use photography to show people the way in which I see the world, not just the visuals of a scene before me, but the feelings that I have, the emotion and the spirit as well.
Do you have other artists or maybe movies that you draw inspiration from for your own work?
Oh yes, definitely. In my teen years watching films was a great way to get inspiration for photography. There are plenty of movies that have spectacular cinematography. I can get inspired by the framing, the colors and the overall feel of the film. The feel, the emotion that was inspiring the most.
There are plenty of artists I follow daily as well. Just when you think you've gotten pretty decent and consistent, someone comes along and blows your mind. Inspiration knows no bounds. It doesn't matter what your age is, your culture.
When I see the work of other people, it pushes me to not only try to improve my own skills, but to think in a more creative way. How can I photograph this subject in a way that is mine, that has my vision, rather than just being a repetition of someone else's work?
What’s your go-to gear (film camera and film stocks), and do you develop on your own? What's the post-process like?
For many years I just used my fathers camera (Minolta Dynax 505si). Very reliable camera, it has never failed me once. The trick is, the lens that came with the camera kit is relatively cheap compared to the body (the part that bothers me the most is the focus adjustment ring when you switch to Manual.)
I have recently bought a second-hand camera, an Olympus OM-10 with a standard 50 mm f/1.8 lens, manual shutter speed adapter. One of the main things I love about the Olympus OM-10 is the shutter sound. Every time an exposure is taken, it truly beats anything else for me.
The camera is also one of the easier film cameras I’ve used. It’s also quite lightweight making it easy to carry around, and hold in one hand.
The film I use the most is Kodak Gold 200 because it’s relatively cheap, consistently delivers great colors, and it’s flexible enough in most situations. Also has good exposure latitude meaning it deals well with underexposure and overexposure.
And of course I also shoot a lot with Portra 160/400. It offers a natural skin tone which is great for shooting self-portraits. I develop and scan my rolls through a local lab here close to me. It's pretty decent but I'm seriously thinking about learning to develop on my own. It’s something I've always wanted. It’s the next step.
I do color correction, dust removal and occasional cropping. No shame in it. There's no shame in getting the picture right, as you saw it. I also have a digital camera (Canon 2000D) that I barely use. Only to shoot in black and white.
Can you talk us through some of your favorite photos?
The first one was during lockdown, and it's a reflection of what I went through at the time. The lockdown made my social anxiety grow like never before. Also dealing with some depressive episodes, I was very unmotivated at the time. It's a digital work.
The second was during the lockdown as well, and it was one of the firsts experiments with a mirror and light. I was lucky to have such beautiful light in my living room and if you go through some of my photos, I have many of them in this place. The theme overall of this photo is self-love. Something I had to learn at the time.
The last one is one of my favorites self-portraits of all time. The meaning behind this reflection in broken pieces of mirror is finding our true identity. The world often tells us who we should be and what we should want. It can feel unmooring to receive so many conflicting messages from external forces, but when you know yourself deeply as an individual, you're less likely to be swayed by outside opinions.
Any projects that you’d like our readers to know about?
I'm finally working on a fine art photography book! Can't wait to release it. It will be a book with no narrative, guiding on the journey towards my work over the last three years.
For me, as a photographer, the feeling of leafing through and feeling the printed photograph is indescribable.
The physical material has been missed by many people and is returning to be something sought after, both by art enthusiasts as well as artists, photographers and designers. The fine art printing technique came exactly to bring back the feeling of the classic, the feeling of seeing a photograph, in fact, as a work of art, but modernized.