With its highly autobiographical outtakes, no nonsense approach and stark-cold aesthetic, the work of Belgian artist Stine Sampers caught most of the local art scene by surprise when it first started gaining traction on blogs and websites a few years ago. Indeed, the apparent ease with which she managed to swing open the doors of her secret stash of personal to construct a narrative that seemed to owe as much to artistic expression as it did to simple survival made her a darling of the “I’ll show you what I’ve got” generation. Here, we catch up with the fresh-faced photographer to talk about the release of her first ever book, under the city lies a sea, published by Ghent-based imprint Art Paper Editions.
Where does the book’s title come from? What are you looking to express through its title?
It’s part of a line from a piece I wrote when I was sixteen… The complete sentence reads: “Under the city lies a sea, where all the melancholic find their tears.” To me, it still expresses a kind of invisible bond between the inhabitants of a city, something that inspires me to create imaginary plot lines between people, things and places with my photos. By means of showing a certain intimacy, you get to see that people are actually all really alike. The same things affect them, the same city (or world) breaks them. Those similarities are the sea, that lies underneath the surface. By organizing these intimate moments as a series of photographs, things connect.
Why was the time right to release a book?
I guess I’ll never be sure whether the time is right or not, I just want to keep moving with whatever I’m doing and when I met Jurgen (Maelfeyt, publisher at APE) we got along great. The moment he invited me to make this book with him it only seemed natural to say yes.
Where do you start when making a book? Can you take us through your working process?
I had no experience with making and publishing books at all, so it was very exciting. Jurgen and I were mailing each other stuff we personally liked and then I started mailing him loads of pictures I had made over the past couple of years and together we found a way of selecting the right ones, by making test prints, laying them out on the floor, taking some away, laying them out again. During this process I also assisted at the APE table at the Offprint fair in Paris and learned a lot about publishing art books, which was very interesting.
How was working on a book different than preparing for an exhibition?
Honestly, I like it much more. Choosing paper, typo, selecting these images to fit together and tell a story. In many ways it’s the same as preparing for an exhibition and yet… When I don’t have to worry about frames, mounting, transport, etc. it’s easier. Jurgen, being the graphic designer and publisher, was always helping me to make certain decisions which I didn’t know much about at first. I had gotten used to do lots of silly jobs on my own, so that was quite a relief. I just feel better this way now. Calmer. It’s a book, you know, I can hold it in my hands and I can keep it under control.
Were there any books that you took as reference points?
Well, yes, I think it’s fair to say Viviane Sassen’s Sol&Luna was the first book upon which Jurgen and I agreed it is great. I admire Sassen a lot for her own fresh take upon a rather classical graphic design, she just knows exactly what her pictures need.
What’s coming in 2014?
I’m not sure actually, life has been very unpredictable over the past couple of months, since I decided to quit university. I hope there’ll be more shows, publications, making things. The good stuff.