INTERVIEW: Sarah Bahbah Discusses Saying "I Love You" First and Her Book, 'Dear Love'
Hypebae talks to the photographer about her creative process and debut book.
Australian-Palestinian photographer Sarah Bahbah has been taking the scene by storm. With her falling in and out of love themes, honest storytelling and dreamlike short films, Bahbah has built an easily recognizable and unique approach to photography and film.
Hypebae had a quick chat with the Sarah Bahbah regarding her thought process, love, being Arab and her photography book, Dear Love. Read on to get to know her more.
“I Love You” was a larger project for you. How did the story come about? How did you decide to work with Nailea Devora?
I actually wrote the script for that in mid 2021. I had been dating my partner for around five months at the time and we’re at that place where I was like, “I think I’m in love with this guy” and I had never been in a position in my life where I’ve actually felt that and meant it.
All of my art in the past has always been about toxic or insecure love and all the negativity that comes with being in a relationship that’s not a match. This was the first time I was in flow and was really experiencing safety in my relationship. It was exciting. It was the first time I was tingling and in the butterflies about wanting to say “I love you” because I never said it and genuinely meant it to a partner before.
So, I sat in the park and knew I had a poem in me. I just wanted to write it and get it out. Then, word by word, it just pulled out of me within two minutes and I was like, “damn, I think this is my next project.” I got secured funding and Nailea was the first person I had in mind for it.
Had you told your boyfriend at that point?
He didn’t know. We still hadn’t said “I love you” to each other. And we didn’t say it for another four months after. My plan was to make the film then show it to him and say it, but then I also was deliberating because I was thinking “the woman shouldn’t say at first, it should be him and if you say it first, they’ve got you” – I had all the tensions that come with saying it first.
Did you also feel scared at some point in the beginning of your relationship, going from toxic to something that’s good?
I grew up in a chaotic household. I was used to it and so, I would seek chaos in my relationships.
To be with someone who was the opposite and who was really calm, collected and nurturing definitely had me projecting a lot of insecurities and searching for chaos within our relationship that didn’t exist. It was actually the first year of the relationship where I realized I was doing that a lot. I was trying to seek out problems and drama because that’s the environment that I know to be safe, even though it’s not safe and caused me a lot of anxiety growing up. I eventually got to a place internally where I took it in with full acceptance and admitted to myself that I do deserve to be loved in this way and it was really powerful.
You mentioned recently that a lot of your projects revolved around heartbreak, but now you want to maybe steer away a little bit from that and instead celebrate life. Was there a moment that inspired this shift? Do you find one experience to be more fulfilling than the other?
I’ve always written from truth and from my experiences. If I’m experiencing joy then that’s my truth and that’s the story that I want to tell.
It’s actually been kind of crazy because l feel like I’m not producing the art that I’m used to and it’s such a big adjustment because I think to myself, “Do I have to get my heart broken in order to be an artist that everyone loves? Why doesn’t everyone love joy?”
I’m trying to now for the first time in my life celebrate and talk about what it means to to be in a healthy dynamic. If I’m not doing that then I’m tapping into old memories and experiences to try and use my art as a resource to how you can bring yourself to secure love by leaning into your healing and your trauma and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and feel everything. A lot of my book Dear Love is about that and how I did use my art to heal from all of my shit and how I continued to use it to heal from all of my shit.
You talked about people using the term “content creation” and asking you to put out more “content.” It’s very obvious that you’d like to dedicate your time to your practice and put out quality work instead of just trying to be consistent with posting everyday in order to stay relevant. Do you feel like social media killed art in that way? Do you have a lot of pressure to constantly create?
For the past decade, I have dedicated my year to one or two projects. I do now feel an immense amount of pressure to turn my art in into something that you just push out every fucking day. I don’t want to succumb to it. I don’t believe it’s the right process for me and while I could dedicate my days to creating these videos, it just won’t feel authentic enough.
What I am trying to do now is instead of creating art within Reels and TikTok, I want to potentially shift my platform or launch my TikTok to use it as a space where I can share the things that I’ve learned and be more public facing in that way as opposed to shooting art for the sake of content. I have devoted so much of my life to my craft and I do have a lot to share and teach about my process. I know a lot of people want to learn about my process. I get messages from students saying they’re writing their PhD about me. I know there is a huge desire from the people who have followed my art to learn about how I did it.
I think the reason why people connected to my art in the first place was because they could feel the journey and emotions that went into it. That’s not something you can channel everyday. It requires sacred hours and months of meditation and reflection and organizing the story you want to tell and taking your time with it.
In Untangled, you showed the different phases of your life. Was there one particular era or chapter of your life that you feel was the hardest to embody and relive in the film?
I tried to romanticize Untangled in fantasyland so while the subjects were dark and they reflected times of navigating trauma, I tried to keep the settings really beautiful. I wanted it to be a celebration. I wanted it to be what my the past 10 years of my life looked like in my head. There wasn’t a specific part that was necessarily hard for me because I do feel like I’m no longer that person that Nailea played. She played played baby me and I just sent compassion to my inner child.
How long did you work on Dear Love? How did you decide what pieces you wanted to have on print?
So, I spent the end of 2021 in quarantine in Perth, Australia. I wasn’t allowed to see anyone I was stuck in this hotel room for two weeks. I had just turned 30 and I was thinking to myself that I’ve been shooting for over a decade. How do I celebrate this? How do I celebrate my 20s? So, this was a gift to myself.
I spent the 14 days going through every single hard drive and grabbing all the raw files of everything I ever shot and shortlisting, re-editing it and adding the subtitles so they’re consistent in the book. I didn’t get it done in 14 days. That process alone took me around seven months. I then flew over my best friend Bahar from Australia because she’s the smartest woman I know and she knows me better than anyone and I need her help to get my thoughts together. We worked on it for a month and it was just so much back and forth. Getting my thoughts on paper was the biggest mission of all.
It was a mighty process. Self-publishing is no joke. It took so much out of me. It was supposed to be a celebration of love, but it ended up leading me to so many different burnouts. I haven’t fully begun to rest until actually a few weeks ago. It took a whole year of 12 to 16 hour days.
When did you know the book was ready to wrap?
If I had my way, I would have just kept going and going and going, but my team was exhausted. I exhausted the graphic designer and my editors. I had my boyfriend and two editors read it through and through to make sure there were no mistakes. I read it now and I think to myself, “Oh, I wish I said this and that.” It happens and it’s normal but you just got to get to a point where you realize you have put everything into it and decide it is done.
You have the title in Arabic on your book. Do you see yourself tapping more into your roots for storytelling in the future?
In 2020, I released a series called “3eib!” which translates to “shame” in Arabic and it was the first time I modelled in front of the camera and also put the subtitles in Arabic. Our stories have not been told and there’s so much uncharted territory in this space. Right now, I’m working on a long form project that really taps into my identity as a Palestinian woman living in Hollywood.