We were virtual strangers who had been introduced by an artist friend. She a photographer, me an interior designer and the mutual friend a sculptor. The Arts & Humanities slogan, “creativity connects us” has never rung truer than on the day I met with photographer Sarah D. King to learn about her novel approach to photography as a visual memoirist. We met at Sarah’s home to talk about her work while she walked me through several Visum Monograph albums recently created for her clients.
Sarah reveals people’s lives through documenting the spaces they inhabit. To view her work is to enter a gentle, intricate world. Her photos are delicately powerful like a dancer, reflecting transience and permanence, fragility and strength, and the blurry edges of memory. She presents her clients with a curated portfolio of pictures which mirror their world back to them in a hauntingly beautiful pictorial essay.
In Sarah’s words, a home is “a bank of memories and experiences…a confluence of events is always happening in your home.” There are deposits and withdrawals: a brightly embroidered Mexican shawl bought on vacation drapes artfully over a chairback, an old quilt goes to charity, a trashy novel gifted by a friend is shelved next to a book on the history of art, a college textbook gets donated to the library, your latest obsession with air plants is evidenced in abundance on every windowsill, a lone orchid which refuses to bloom goes to a more horticulturally competent neighbor. Home is an evolutionary landscape where all your bits and pieces come together to form a whole and like a kaleidoscope everything can change with the merest movement of your hand.
Rarely do we pause to contemplate or notice the beauty equitably distributed among the mundane and extraordinary objects of our home, but Sarah does.
Sarah has noticed how a lifetime of experiences, steeped in our living spaces, provide revealing portraits of our inner and outer selves – these are the portraits captured by her artful lens. Through her prism, she views home as both story and storyteller. These stories change minutely by the day or dissolve in an instant if we move. Evoking memories and paying homage to families through photographs is at the heart of Sarah’s work.
She says it began with her mother’s home after the passing of her father. She helped her mother pack and intuitively began taking photographic vignettes of the house. Sarah went into what she describes as something akin to a meditative state taking photos of the objects that made up her parents’ identity, how they lived and who they were in the world, as she began to process her father’s death.
Now beautifully bound, Sarah shows me her mother’s book, “the one that started it all.” In retrospect, she says she would have done much more. But from my point of view, it’s all there, it’s perfect; stunning photos unto themselves. Sarah’s parents spent 50 years together and lived a richly textured, well-traveled life. Sarah’s way of dividing space in each image is beautiful. Her mother loved the light in the house, so Sarah captured the little magical dances of light in the photos. Her father was a traveler and a seeker, perpetually on a quest whether literal or metaphysical. Sarah reminisces he was a Buddhist who studied religions and could often be found reading in his chair. On the page between us a photo of the empty chair conjures her father more poignantly than if he were pictured. Pages of memories unfurl like a photographic pinwheel – a stack of books, artifacts, textiles, a shell collection, a cane leaning against a staircase, an entryway her parents loved – everything exudes her parents, everything has a story, everything is a story. In one photo a cobweb can be seen and Sarah reflects, “I could have taken that out.”
“We often have emotional connections where we don’t realize it, and the home is one of those places. Sometimes it takes an event to happen to make us realize that the home is your life curated.”
– Sarah D. King
Since realizing the importance of visual memories, Sarah started Visum Monographs to offer others a way to honor and memorialize themselves and their legacies (with a small “L” she points out, because she doesn’t believe the only legacies worth capturing are “huge legacies with a value judgement”). Honoring the trust her clients place in her, she spends time in their home documenting their narrative and collaborates with them to sequence the photographs. She’s careful to present the books in a way that make sense and feel right to the family.
Clients include older children of ageing adults who commission a book as a gift, downsizing couples who create one in remembrance of the family home, and families who simply want to capture a moment in time. Not surprisingly these books can be an important part of memory care. One client keeps the book close to her as an anchor to herself. Sara says even if we are unable to articulate certain things in words, a photograph can be orienting, grounding and fun. Ultimately, the books are a celebration.
Sarah D. King studied photography at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle and started Visum Monographs in 2018.