Women who inspire: Q & A with photographer Maryam Eisler

Women who inspire: Q & A with photographer Maryam Eisler

Tell us about your background and the path you’ve taken to becoming an artist and influencer in the art world?

My path to art production has travelled through several stages before arriving where I am today. I suppose it would be fair to say that my interest in art developed whilst growing up in Paris after the (Iranian) Revolution (of 1978), spending weekends in museums and galleries, with my mother.

In the 90s, my career swayed me towards marketing, working first at L’Oreal and then at Estee Lauder in London and in New York, understanding beauty, women’s psyche, their needs and desires, and this, in an industry predominantly led by image. This is where I worked with ad agencies and some of the big ‘beauty’ names & faces of the time. 

After starting a family, my interests were re-directed more specifically towards contemporary art, first with the production of several books on artists and their studios. I was and continue to be involved with several artistic institutions such as the Guggenheim, the British Museum, and most importantly the Tate, where I co-chaired the Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee for ten years. It is through these experiences, that I gained my art education, literally on the ground and in studios.

All along however, I had been simultaneously feeding my personal interest in photography, through courses and workshops all over the world, from Iceland to Provence … but I never dared come out with my own art production publicly. In 2016, however, having just returned from New Mexico and Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Ghost Ranch’, a friend saw a few of my prints lying on my living room floor, ‘ not knowing who the artist was !’  Astonished by my answer, she snapped and shared with a gallerist friend of hers, Tristan Hoare, who immediately called me in for a meeting the next day! The rest is history.

That’s when I felt my wings unclip,  when I dared jump ship from supporting the arts to producing art, telling and sharing visual stories all over the world. This creative journey has given true purpose to my life, and even though I came into it later on in my career/ life, I have never felt as fulfilled as I do today.

What are you currently working on? What excites you most about your work at the moment?

I have just finished my exhibition,’If Only These Walls Could Talk’ at Alon Zakaim Fine Art in Mayfair.

I photographed this series at the legendary Nord-Pinus Hotel in Arles,  amidst the ghostly presence of Picasso, Cocteau, Callas, Chaplin, Hemingway, and Van Gogh.

During my stay at the hotel in 2021 between lockdowns, I was particularly drawn to Suite 10 - the location of Helmut Newton’s iconic 1973 Vogue shoot with Charlotte Rampling. Not in replication or imitation, but rather to explore and to expand on the subject of ‘La Femme’ in the Now. Through this body of work, I have continued with my pursuit of what I like to define as the ‘Sublime Feminine’, distilling figures into abstract but emotive shapes, attempting to capture mythical beauty in a magical dance between light and shade. Sensual yet strong, seductive yet unattainable, I would like to think that the women depicted project both uncompromising femininity and vibrant beauty.

Suite 10 at the Hôtel Nord-Pinus was also the place where celebrated bullfighters, such as Luis Miguel Dominguín, greeted their adoring crowds from the balcony railings, so this series pays equal homage to a sport that has captivated generations of artists, poets, and writers, including Picasso, who spent a great deal of time in the Arles Arena- where I too photographed the great Matador alongside his defiantly spirited and passionate muses, all the while exploring the female/male tensions that have haunted the city of Arles over centuries.

Who inspired you the most along your professional journey?

The person who most inspired me throughout my professional journey was my boss at Estee Lauder, Jeanette (Sarkisian) Wagner, President of Estee Lauder’s international operations after which she became Vice Chairwoman of the company; It would be fair to say that Jeanette single-handedly was responsible for the globalisation of the Estee Lauder brand in the 90s, with a particular focus on Russia and China. One of the first women to have attended Harvard Business School, Jeanette was the true definition of a trail blazer, and she never took NO for an answer. I learned and benefitted so much from Jeanette’s empowering and hands-on management style, not to mention her sense of respect for colleagues. In fact, even after she stepped down from the company, well into her 80s, she invited me to her favourite London spot, Harry’s Bar, and proceeded on telling me how she had just begun a Mandarin course! Her advice to me: always dare and never stop learning!

Who are the artists (past or present) that inspire you?

The artists whose work inspire me the most are photographer, Tina Modotti and abstract expressionist painter, Lee Krazner. Both unfortunately did not manage to experience the fame they deserved in their own life time, as both women lived in the shadow of their lovers, both of whom were ‘art giants’ of their time, Edward Weston, in the case of Tina, and Jackson Pollock in the case of Lee. This state of affairs was of course emblematic of the time they lived in. However, it has now been well documented that both couples artistically informed each other and developed through mutual dialogue.

I was particularly interested in how passion (sometimes even dysfunctional love) fuels creativity; I was particularly taken by the nature of Modotti and Weston’s love story and turned it into a body of work, ‘ Imagining Tina : a Dialogue with Edward Weston’ in 2017, where I reimagined the couple’s love affair, attempting to trace and capture Edward’s gaze onto Tina, her body and her mind, during their tumultuous Mexican revolutionary years in the 1920s…

What art exhibits are you earmarking in the calendar to visit in 2023?

I am most looking forward to experiencing Zanele Muholi’s powerful portraiture at the MEP in Paris, painter Alice Neel’s exhibition at the Barbican, and of course my forever go- to, Georgia O’ Keeffe ‘ To See Takes Time’ at the MOMA in New York!

Where is home for you and how do you juggle work and home?

Home is where the heart is. The heart is where I find inspiration, in place, space and people.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Or, what is a saying you live by?

‘Love passionately, dare unapologetically’.

How would you describe your personal sense of style?

I would describe my personal sense of style as ‘bohemian’ … jeans, cowboy boots and puffy sleeves – day and night! I particularly love 70s – inspired style …  safari Jackets, flares, Tuxedo jackets at night, chokers and cuffs, but also long heavy gold chains adorned with strong material – based emblematic pendants, especially if they are memory- based.

How does your sense of style factor into or play out in your work (if applicable)?

My sense of style I believe offers a perfect fit to my passion for travel and adventure, especially in big space, big sky and big nature- the desert in particular.

What are your favourite Sonia Petroff designs?

My favourite Sonia Petroff designs are the Desert Rose collection, the brooch in particular, and the Dragon Fish necklace on a leather chain.

What 3 words does the brand Sonia Petroff bring to mind for you?

The three ideas that the Sonia Petroff brand brings to mind are ‘70s chic’,  ‘statement pieces for bold women’ and dare I boldly say, woke or not, ‘SEXY’!