Sabrina Grâbo was born and bred in East-Berlin, Germany during the time of the fall of the Berlin wall. What a shake-up and twist of events. Unexpected for most, they were finally united. Transformation and Freedom. Ready to soar to other lands, she lived in Dublin, Ireland, a wee bit in London (UK) as well as Munich, Germany before taking a leap of faith and jumping into a really big plane to New Zealand.
She’s been living and photographing “Kiwis” (as New Zealanders cutely call themselves) since the start of the new millennium. Sabrina loves getting to know everyone she photographs, one on one. “It’s fascinating to see what makes someone tick, what gets them excited about life.” Forever curious she easily beats an eight-year-old with the number of questions she can come up with during a photo session. Chats can be light, eye-opening, or outright hilarious. Whatever their mentality, a good time and fun experience are assured whilst capturing some spice and essence together!
She runs a Lifestyle Portrait Studio specializing in photographing Headshots of People (Authors, Actors, Models, Corporates, LinkedIn & Social Media and Dating Profile Photos) from within her funky Oriental Bay apartment in the coolest little capital, Wellington.
Was there a moment when you decided to be a photographer?
Sabrina: Absolutely, in 2004 after finishing my initial photography studies (as studies never finish…or shouldn’t) when I felt it was the right direction to take. You don’t stumble into running a business. Photographic talent and people skills are important aspects but so are making the decision and having the daily discipline (even if you don’t feel like it) to pursue your art as well as exploring avenues in how to eventually make a living from it.
What do you like most about the job?
Sabrina: That it’s not a job!
Jobs are fragments of a picture only, functions. Fragments and functions without connection don’t excite me. The creative muscle does. Turning a thought into more thoughts that eventually morph into a bigger and bigger picture, step by step, excite me. It’s a beautiful thing and very rewarding whatever it is you do, especially as it never stops if you exercise it.
Do you have a routine or follow any rituals when you’re working?
Sabrina: I’m a mule. I love routines and frameworks that I build around myself. Routines or better even, good habits, give myself inspiration, time, and space for free-thinking. Sometimes it’s beautiful to just float and see where your ideas take you. I have days like this. Other days I set anchor and work through a list of tasks that get me to the next day of sailing. I like focussing on things one day at a time, staying fluid rather than rigid, so which days do not matter to me.
Who influenced you the most? Is there any other photographer that you consider as a kind of idol?
Sabrina: Sure, there are many photographers I love and that inspired me, but so are many other things in nature, music, poems, dance, smells…and I can go on and on.
Two humans interacting, connecting for the purpose of being captured. One essence capturing the others. That’s the magic I have set myself out on sprinkling.
You were born in East-Berlin, during the time the wall was still there. Were you able to take photos then? And how much of your artistic expression today is influenced by that time?
Sabrina: Although I was only nine years old when the wall fell, I have many vivid memories of the times. Our eyes are the first cameras, later on, I simply started to stop and conserve moments through photography to relive them just that little bit, but being there (or anywhere) and opening your eyes and all other senses to what’s around you, is what can not be captured. It can only be a reminder, ascent, of a memory that’s been felt some time ago.
How important are the individual stories of your subjects?
Sabrina: A photograph is always invisible. Everything it does is to show the subject but never itself. Everyone has a story, many stories, that often shaped us, how we roam, perceive, and react to the world around us. Our story is the first door to connecting to another human. After going through that door we might find many more hallways and doors that lead to things we never knew of…that’s what happens when we coincide.
You say you live in New Zealand now and photographing Kiwis. Why Kiwis, and what else inspires you there?
Sabrina: I’ve lived in New Zealand for most of my adult life. “Kiwis” are the inhabitants of New Zealand….every human but even animal is in the right context often lovingly referred to as a ‘kiwi’. For the last twenty years or so I have solely focussed on photographing these ‘kiwis’ as humans naturally fascinate me. However, I do spend a considerable time of my days in solitude which gives me that space for free thought I mentioned earlier. I’m inspired by life itself. How can one not be?
What, in your opinion, is most important to consider while shooting portrait pictures?
Sabrina: The subject and their surroundings (setting and light sets moods)! It’s not about you, the photographer, but about them.
“In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one the photographer makes use of to exhibit his art.” Quote from Roland Barthes’ book called “Camera Lucida”, an interesting examination of the themes of presence and absence, the relationship between photography and theatre, history and death.
How has your art evolved over the years?
Sabrina: Some crucial aspects of my portraiture have never changed. Deep connection to my subjects, warmth, humility. That’s the essence of my work, of me. I prefer working on my own, rather than in large production teams, as deep connection is a lot more challenging to establish with more than a small group of people at any one time…and, as said earlier, it would turn into a function (a job!!) which doesn’t excite me.
Subject matters are fluid and changed over the years. I have photographed weddings, families, humans in all life stages. I am currently mainly photographing Headshots from within my studio apartment in Oriental Bay, Wellington. My clients come from all walks of life. Many find it difficult to be photographed or even believe they are unphotogenic. I find it most rewarding to help them to see themselves in a new light. That’s what happens when we open different doors together.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Sabrina: Many beautiful responses. Many tears, speechless moments, deep breaths.. But the best words come from my clients themselves:
“Sabrina is exceptional. She’s a photographer who connects with a person, interprets them, and conveys their essence with perception and unquestionable artistry and skill. I found the photo session, expertly directed by Sabrina, relaxing, and enjoyable. A week later, I was blown away by the charm and integrity of her work. I recommend her unreservedly.”
— Stephanie de Montalk (author)
“It really was a pleasure to work with someone who not only knows what looks best on camera but also captures something more than just a face or a body – there’s real life and emotion in Sabrina’s photography. It’s awesome! In the past I’ve felt a little silly in front of the camera and many times I’ve looked back at photos and wished I’d stood better or tilted my head differently – Sabrina will make sure you’re perfectly positioned before snapping the photo. Truly talented photographers seem to be something that is hard to find in the age of people thinking they’re photographers because they bought a fancy camera – without a doubt, Sabrina is top talent!”
— Jess Segal (Singer)
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Sabrina: Word of mouth is beautiful. Apart from that, run a great website and make sure you can be found.
What’s next for you?
Sabrina: I’m currently exploring String art in relation to portraiture and am establishing a fascinating body of work I will exhibit in the not so far away future.