An Interview with Sophie Gamand: Sony Photography Award Winner 2014 – Portraiture Category


Continuing our series of interviews with young, upcoming photographers we talk to Sophie Gamand, winner of the Portraiture category in the Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA) 2014.

1. Firstly congratulations on winning the award – it’s a highly prestigious competition, what does it mean to you?
Thank you! I never thought in a million years I would win, especially since my portraits were of dogs. Not only that, wet dogs. Winning this award validated my entire photographic exploration at a time where I had started questioning my work. It was a wonderful feeling seeing nine of my Wet Dog prints (Metro prints) lined-up on the wall at the Somerset House in London. It brought tears to my eyes and made me giggle all at once. I wanted to kiss the dogs, tell them it was going to be ok. They looked so alive and tormented.2. Since you won the award back in May 2014 what effect if any, do you think the prize has had on your career?
It gave me a strong sense of validation, I definitely feel more confident in my work since the award. I think it helped capture the interest of the industry. I think photography is still a very traditional industry and portraits of dogs are considered quite inferior. I have set myself the goal to revolutionise the way we photograph dogs, constantly pushing the boundaries, pulling dog portraits out of the “pet portrait” category and pushing it into a “fine art” world. Winning such a prestigious photography award was definitely a milestone in my personal photographic mission.

3. You won the award with your wonderful series of images entitled ‘Wet Dog’.  Can you explain a little about that project and your recent work, which also primarily features dogs?
All my work, since 2010 has been exclusively about dogs (and their people. There are always two layers to my work: the fun, striking images, and the difficult reality behind them.
‘Wet Dog’ happened quickly, I wanted to photograph the dog grooming process and when I saw the expressions of the dogs in the tub I could not look away.
Then in summer 2014 I created the ‘Flower Power’ series featuring pit bulls wearing flower crowns. I was a victim of the negative media portrayal of the dogs and wanted to see for myself so I worked with shelter pit bulls, the abandoned, abused ones and it completely changed my relationship with them. It was a wonderful experience.
My latest series, ‘Prophecy’ features hairless dogs.

4. Is there a favourite breed of dog that you like to shoot?
I always say: my favourite photo hasn’t happened yet, because I am a perfectionist and eternally unsatisfied. Each time I photograph a breed, I enjoy everything about it but I am also constantly looking for the next challenge, the next muse.

5. Do you think there are any particular skills that are required to photograph dogs or animals?
Absolutely. The communication happens at so many different levels with animals. Sounds, eye contact, body language, even the vibe you give off on set. I always had a lot of empathy for people, animals and even things, so I think this comes quite naturally to me. But I had to learn a lot, and still learn more at every shoot. Every animal is different and comes with their own personality and challenges, their own trauma and memories, so each one requires a slightly different treatment. I consider it teamwork.

6. Have you always had an ambition to become a photographer and if so what do you think sparked that interest?
I requested my first camera when I was 10. I was a very lonely child and extremely creative. Photography was such a lonely art form, yet through portraiture I could be with people, without really being there, if that makes sense. At times I have wished I grew up at a time when digital cameras were as good and accessible as they are now. But when I look at my old films I feel nostalgia, a strong, physical, emotional connection to my images that I don’t think kids today have with their digital files.
It’s only since 2010 and since I found my muse (dogs) that photography has become that serious for me. Dogs found me. I did not know I had this in me. I realised my art could have meaning if I was using it to help save the lives of homeless pets (which I do with my Striking Paws project. I feel very fulfilled.

7. You have a very large following on Instagram.  Do you shoot differently when you have an image in mind for your Instagram feed?
I actually never shoot “for” Instagram. I really don’t have time for it! Everything that is on my Instagram feed comes from my personal projects (tests, finished series, shelter shoots). I don’t even post everything I do! My Instagram feed is a selection of my personal favourites. Sophie’s Instagram .

8. Have you any interesting current projects or upcoming exhibitions you’d like to share with us?
My ‘Wet Dog’ book is coming out in the Autumn 2015 and I’ve just released my new series ‘Prophecy’ with hairless dogs and I am already working on the next series. I am also working on a massive awareness campaign for New York’s largest animal shelter. I hope to travel a few times this year, for some projects I have on stray dogs (I would love to go back to Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico) and I have a few potential exhibits in the making.
Photography is a difficult, slow, challenging career. You feel so isolated most of the time (except when you win an award!) and it’s difficult to know what the next step should be. With Wet Dog and the attention the series got in 2014, I was propelled into a world where everyone wants a piece of your work. I have been navigating it for months, trying to make the best decisions for my career. I dream of finding an agent/manager/mentor that could help me be the best I can be. All I want to do really is create new work.

9. Do you have any photography/career goals you’d like to achieve?
That’s a tricky question! My goals evolve constantly. At this precise moment, I would love to successful lead both a commercial and a fine art career. That would be an amazing achievement. Something most people say is impossible to achieve. But mostly, I just want to keep being inspired and challenged and keep producing work that pushes boundaries. I want to be proud of what I put out there.

For more information about Sophie Gamand
Follow Sophie on Instagram
For more information about the Sony World Photography Awards 2015
Images © Sophie Gamand, Wet Dog Series.