The eco-futuristic photography of Steve Sabella

Written by Beulah | 13th August 2019

Steve Sabella is a Palestinian-born, Berlin-based artist who has spent much of his career using photographic mediums to explore and subvert humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Exploring questions around our collective visual history and the nature of ‘place’, Sabella’s photographic collages are often compared to classical paintings.

As one of these photographic collages comes up for auction on Catawiki, we caught up with Sabella and asked him some questions about his eco-futuristic photography.

Can you please tell us a bit about the process of creating On Earth?

Steve: I created On Earth to look like a story within a story, a reality within a reality, a journey bordering the imagination. I sourced the images which I consider as my colour palette, from one of the most magical lakes in Berlin. There, on one late afternoon, mesmerized, I photographed hundreds of scenes. Using my camera like a painter uses his brush, and while collaging these scenes on a computer canvas, I felt myself working on a historical tableau, creating a work that jumps to different times. 

Even though there is a painterly feel to my work, its DNA is always photography.

On Earth is currently up for auction on Catawiki

You've mentioned that this piece has "biblical, mythological and contemporary connotations". Did that happen organically? Or was it deliberate?

Steve: I would say both, but I often let the scenes and their intricate details lead me. However, like in any work of art, I start creating with an empty page. In good, creative writing, the characters sometimes begin to have a life of their own, dictating to the writer their tone of voice. Maybe the secret of this work is connected to the nature of life in Berlin, which is often experienced as mystical, magical, and bursting with energy. 

In brief, while collaging, I went with the flow, letting forms carry me. The less I thought, the more harmony emerged. I have often visited this unique lake, and the way people chill, position themselves naturally fascinates me. The scenes reminded me of many paintings from art history. I saw “Le Déjeuner sur L’herbe” floating above Adam and Eve's Genesis story. The nudity, the muses, and the prevalent dreamy effect blend magically together to transport the viewers to parallel realities and to make them engage with classic tales.  

A portrait of the artist: Steve Sabella

A lot of your work has focused on the construction of visual history. As images of climate change constantly bombard us, what role does On Earth play within our contemporary visual landscape?

Steve: History, as we know it, is a construct of images. And since our understanding of images changes all the time, our understanding of history and the past changes too. However, the putting of images together is like solving a visual puzzle, that allows leaps into the future. Images are vehicles that travel through or are beyond time. 

In my work, I re-imagine the landscape, work on it as if I am decoding a visual puzzle. It's like I was given parts of fragmented land and was asked to find a solution, "fix" it. Planet Earth requires immediate and surgical intervention. We have the power to piece the land together, fix the shores and mountains, and reconstruct its harmony, where every part matters. Only then, real beauty would emerge, one that feels like in a dreamy state, where everything is possible. But together, we should start first cleansing our imagination, the base of any future fertile land. 

We live in paradise, and the question is, do we see it? 

Your comment about how On Earth is an example of 'how people let others be' is very interesting. As a photographer, do you feel a tension to document the world as it is vs. the artistic impulse to exploit "reality" for your own artwork?

Steve: I see myself as an artist who explores the medium of photography. And what is reality? There are only perceptions of it, and even though it does seem that we share the same reality, in essence, we don't.  I don't exploit reality. I observe it. In the 1990s, during the work on my first major art project, Search, I learned a quote by Robert Bly that still inspires me:

"Whoever wants to see the invisible must penetrate more deeply into the visible."

Great beauty can emerge when the thin layer in an artwork that separates reality and imagination disappears, making them blend as if in a daydream. 


On Earth is currently up for auction on Catawiki and our experts host weekly photography auctions.


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