Saturday, September 10, 2022

Q&A with Sara Macel


Photo by Carly Gaebe



Sara Macel is the author of the new book What Did the Deep Sea Say. Her other work includes May the Road Rise to Meet You. An artist and photographer, she is the photography program coordinator and photography instructor at SUNY Rockland Community College.


Q: When you found a suitcase of photographs that had belonged to your grandmother, what questions did these images raise for you?


A: What had life and time done to the vibrant woman in these photographs who seemed so different from the woman my grandmother became? And what can I learn from these photographs that may save me from a similar fate?


It also got me thinking about the lack of autonomy for women of her generation, what has changed in terms of women’s rights between that time and now, and sadly, what hasn’t changed and, in fact, regressed.


And, of course, there were her photos of young, handsome Father Jim, our family priest. She photographed him in the same repetitive, obsessive way I photographed my crushes in school. I’d love to know what really happened between them, but that’s for only their ghosts and the sea to know.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title is an old Woody Guthrie song about a sailor who is lost at sea and the person waiting for him on the shore will never learn what happened to him. The indifferent sea holds the secret to his fate just as it holds the answer to all my questions. The ocean is ancestral. It’s a place we go to for rejuvenation, but where we can also drown.

That suitcase full of secrets led me to her beach. Years into working on this book, I discovered my mother also came here years before I was born looking for adventure and finding romance. Unexpected secrets come out when you look into your family history. I think this suitcase came into my life at just the right time for me to seek these answers.


Q: How did you choose the order in which the images would appear in the book?


A: I spent years working on the edit and sequence of images for this body of work. And I shared it with many trusted friends and peers in the art world to get a variety of perspectives.


The story began with the suitcase, so that opens the book as this treasure chest or Pandora’s box if you will. Then, we go back in time to the beach and meet my grandmother, my mother, and me. Throughout the sequence time jumps back and forth showing how we three keep repeating each other’s actions.


Q: What do you hope people take away from the book?


A: You can learn so much about yourself by looking to your family history. There’s a rhythm, a connection, between generations that is hard to see until you look deeper. And the photographs we leave behind can reveal secrets and desires you thought were buried in the past.


It’s important to remember who your mother was before she was your mother. As a photographer, I’ve learned that people often go through their days feeling unseen. Older women in our society especially feel overlooked.


To really look at someone and make their portrait is an intimate moment. I wanted to really look at my mother and make her feel seen. I wanted to make her feel beautiful while also acknowledging her sadness.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My new work is related to marriage, fertility, and pregnancy. With this work, I’m stepping outside my comfort zone by working with new sources of archival images and making cyanotypes from my iPhone, which I began making during COVID.


Both in how I am making the work and what the work is about, I’m adapting to what life throws at me. I find that so much goes unspoken about in those areas of life, and photography is a perfect medium to say so much without saying a word.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The launch party for What Did the Deep Sea Say will be this fall in Brooklyn, NY. Please sign up for my mailing list and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @saramacel for more details:


I’ll be at Paris Photo for Kehrer Verlag’s book signing on Friday, Nov. 11 at 5pm.


And my inaugural NFT collection of this work is available now through Assembly Curated at


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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