Sara Harley has been described as a Photographic Expressionist. Her work bridges the worlds of photography and painting and creates composited images that are poetic in nature. Haven is a series of composited digital images using her own photography. She enjoys the freedom and individualism of creating conceptual art, images that are based in the reality of her own photography, but developed from her imagination. Because she uses her own photography together with her creativity, her images are uniquely her own. Sometimes surreal, frequently using her love of birds and nature, her creations often illustrate feelings we hesitate to discuss. She started working on her Haven series in 2021.
The Getaway by Sara Harley
Over the past two years, our changed world has caused a myriad of emotions about the importance of home and security, which has led to the exploration of the concept of haven. The dichotomy between the safety of our own environment and the threat of the unknown from without has contributed to increased levels of social anxiety. Whether based in reality, or perceived, the situation has challenged us to examine our thoughts and ourselves.
Turning the Page by Sara Harley
What makes us feel safe? Where do we take comfort? Are reduced social interactions a cause for celebration, or stress? What triggers our anxieties? The answers are different for all of us.
Oasis by Sara Harley
At first glance, Harley's images seem straight forward and ordinary but on closer inspection an element of illusion can be found. Her photographic collages illustrate that nothing is all good or bad, there is usually an element of both to be found. Viewers are usually pleased right away with the images and the skill with which Harley executes them, sometimes not realizing they are composited photographs and not paintings. Viewers will also spend time with her creations, looking deeper to come to create their own story and conclusions about their meanings.
No Place Like Home by Sara Harley
After Harley received a cancer diagnosis in 2010, she adopted trees as her symbol of strength. Birds are another recurring character in her images. Release, freedom, escape, renewal, and hope are themes illustrated by the birds in her creations. It is a rare exception for her to use people in her images. Instead she uses nature, particularly birds, to portray characteristics and emotions...to give life to her visual stories.
Shuttered by Sara Harley
Abandoned homes are the subject matter for many photographers, including Harley. The sense of time and history embodied in an older structure immediately starts a story. There is a sense of sadness, of wistfulness for things that might have been, an interesting base for the narrative the viewers wishes to create. The country churches used in her images elicit contradictory thoughts of joyful celebrations, overwhelming grief, and everything in between.
In Our Hands by Sara Harley
The color palette in many of Harley's images embody a richness not found in her earlier work. The soft glow of evening light is the time for secrets and dreams. imaginations can run wild and all things seem possible. Moonlight and star shine illuminate our intimate thoughts. Nothing seems unattainable, everything within reach.
Ruminations by Sara Harley
Wide expanses are a favorite of Harley, as they evoke varying emotions depending on the viewer. Whether it's an open field, a stretch of beach, or a solitary home, they may give a sense of freedom and release from constraint or perhaps a feeling of isolation and despair. Again, it is up to the viewer to decide.
Choices by Sara Harley
Whether the concept of haven is a literal one, or figurative, Harley's poetic images tell a narrative of contradictions. A sense of hope in a decaying setting, of choice in a backdrop of despair, of wonder in a magical setting, all encourage the viewer to weave their own story.
Click on an image to open the gallery
has carried a camera for many years, documenting life and training her eye to capturing the unusual. Her entry into a more poetic style of image making began when she moved to Canada's east coast and she dedicated more time to her artistic practice. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, she began combining her photography with verse.
In 2017 her family went through another medical crisis, and Harley turned to creating composited artwork to help her through the emotional turmoil. Words written in her notebook were the impetus for her fist series of composited work:
Sometimes I cry so hard I think the tears will never stop. Sometimes I feel so tired I want to lay my head down and sleep forever. Sometimes I feel absolutely nothing and wonder if I will ever feel happy again.
Wikipedia describes journal therapy as a writing therapy focusing on the writer's internal experiences, thoughts and feelings. In Harley's experience, pictorialization is therapeutic and much more meaningful because she is a visual person. She uses her camera as a tool, and she tells her stories through pictures, sometimes straight out of the camera and sometimes by creating composited work. An introvert at heart, Harley is not one to talk about her innermost thoughts with other people. She turned to her art to help her express the challenges she face. Harley chose words to describe her feelings and farmed her photographic library to create composited self portraits that conveyed those feelings and the stages of healing.
Her 15 image project called Stroke of Emotions was featured in the Picturing Health exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia and published in Seeing in SIXES 2018, a book curated by the publishers of LensWork. The project was awarded Nominee in the International 5th Annual Fine Art Photography Awards, Conceptual Photography and was also featured in the Mental Health, Photography + Healing issue by PhotoEd Magazine.
Since then, Harley has created more projects focused on emotional healing. Her first solo exhibit, Roots + Wings (2018) paired verse with images created using the symbols of trees and birds. Differentiation (2018) followed, another series of emotional images paired with verse. A photography project called Trailings (2021) was her third solo exhibit, and linked mental wellness and nature. Sixteen images from Trailings were featured in a 2000 word article published by On Landscape Magazine in 2021 (Issue 232).
Her current project, Haven, continues the theme of emotional healing, and the entire collection was selected for a solo exhibit at the Chester Art Centre, Chester, Nova Scotia for the month of May 2022. Seven images from the portfolio gave her the honor of receiving Rfotofolio's Work of Merit in 2021. Open Show Pasadena/East LA selected a 20 image portfolio from Haven for their presentation This is a photograph because I say it is, where Harley was a featured speaker. Selected images have been included in an exhibit by Labyrinth Gallery, UK, and printed in Salt & Citrus Magazine's Volume II Issue II as well as Understorey Magazine's Issue 17: RE Nature. The Haven project is featured in the May 2022 issue of smART Magazine.
Harley's photographs have been used on book covers, including authors Margaret Atwood and Isabel Allende, and published by several magazines, such as PhotoEd, Understorey, Uppercase, ON Landscape, and smART Magazine. Her work has been included in many group exhibits, locally and internationally, and she has hosted four solo exhibits in the past four years. Her work continues to evolve and she publishes several project guides each year.
© Sara Harley