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January 24, 2024

Elina Choi

Sara Bouwman, a photographer and videographer based in New York City, aims to portray a natural sense of memory in her work. Drawing from nostalgic film aesthetics, Bouwman’s photography triggers a sense of reminiscence from the viewer, beckoning them into the messy chaos of fashion. A self-declared “fly on the wall,” Bouwman’s camera observes Fashion Week runways, backstage moments, and structured editorial shoots with versatile ease. 


Bouwman has worked with brands like Tanner Fletcher, Mirror Palais, Coach, and Carolina Herrera, and her work has been published in Vogue, Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar, and WWD, among other renowned publications. In our conversation, Bouwman explores her entry into the fashion industry as a young creative. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 


Elina Choi: How did you get started in fashion photography? 


Sara Bouwman: I was always interested in photography and that led me to study film at Elon University. After graduating in2021, I came to New York and started doing some photo gigs here and there, shooting with an influencer crowd and some headshots. Then fashion week came around, I emailed all the PR agents responsible for the shows. I finally got a couple of responses allowing me to just go to these shows for extra press photography. 


That was my entry point, from there on I kept building relationships and growing my network. 


EC: Amazing. How do you think the fashion industry is transforming as far as photography and fashion? 


SB: The industry is definitely changing a lot in terms of how fast everything is reproduced or even put out in general. For example, when I was working Fashion Week in September, it was really quick in terms of how fast you had to turn your pictures around. Fashion Week is really a speed game, especially because everyone is trying to get their pictures out first for press. There’s a lot of influence on aesthetics and trends within photography that get picked up a lot. It’s important to stay true to your own personal aesthetic and in terms of photography and digital art in general.


EC: On that note, what is your experience of being self-employed within the fashion industry?


SB: That’s a good one. I will be completely honest, it’s definitely hard—there’s definitely a big learning curve. Especially as a young woman in the industry, learning how to really speak up for yourself is huge, whether that’s being able to advocate for your rates, figuring out contracts, or just navigating how to handle situations that weren’t taught in school has been huge. 


Finding mentors to help guide you and answer questions that can’t be answered online, like “how much should I charge” or “how do I find consistent clients that can pay my bills” and just approaching it with a game plan and following self-discipline to hold yourself accountable is very important. It’s easy to get stagnant and not keep trying to push yourself and find more clients because it is a super competitive industry. It’s also very important to maintain relationships with your clients! Being personable and connecting with them on a more personal level definitely takes you a long way. 


EC: What are you looking for when you’re shooting a runway show or a backstage moment as opposed to a structured photo shoot?


SB: I feel like my approach with fashion week is to be more of an observer and find those moments that I would want to see if I’d never been to a runway show. For example, all the messiness of it—the models getting into their outfits while the designers sew up one last little thing—and just really taking the backseat in the whole scene. Observing the chaos is really what I love about it. You’re kind of a fly on the wall in those scenarios, the photographer's just there observing and walking through everything. In terms of a structured photo shoot, you definitely have more control and time to think about exactly what you want beforehand with pre-production. So it’s definitely a very different approach, but both are great in their own ways.


EC: What are some especially rewarding moments of your career so far? 


SB: I definitely think one of the most rewarding moments was when I was working with Tanner Fletcher last year and my pictures ended up in Vogue Runway. That was a big one for me because I wasn’t expecting that either. I just woke up and it was there and I was like, wow—that’s a big accomplishment for sure. I also think consistently working with the same people and brands is always very rewarding. When people ask for you back and you nurture those relationships, it’s always amazing to know that people want to continue working with you and they even recommend you for more things. This September, I just did a new show that I was recommended for through Tanner Fletcher, which was really great. Cause then you’re just like, wow, I’m doing well if people are spreading the word.  


EC: Do you think being a fashion photographer has changed your personal sense of style? 


SB: Definitely. I think as a fashion photographer you really have to understand clothes to begin with. When I first started, I wasn’t paying as much attention to how the clothes actually appear in photographs. I was mostly thinking about the overall photo and the model's pose. And then as I started looking at other photographers and just growing my own portfolio, I focused more on how the clothes look or even how they fit. You also have to think about, is that their style or are you making them a character? I’ve definitely gone through some style changes for sure from just being around all of it. 


EC: You mentioned that you often looked at other artists’ work. Do you mind sharing a few photographers who inspire you? 


SB: Oh, sure. So there’s one, her name is Emily Lipson who I’ve loved for a while. She has a really interesting and unique way of editing,shooting, and posing her models. Although she has a grungy 90’s aesthetic, she really makes each shoot unique–her aesthetic is always underlying, but there is always a new vibe in each shoot. And of course, the classics, Steven Meisel and Richard Avedon. It’s good to go back in history and see the best of the best.


EC: Last but not least, do you have any advice for other young creatives trying to enter the fashion industry? 


SB: Yes. I would definitely reach out to as many people that you look up to or want to work for as you can. Don’t be scared to reach out. I definitely struggled with not putting my foot down and being like, okay, I need to reach out to these people—it really does grow your network in this industry so much. A lot of my jobs have come from reaching out to people because I really did not have any connections getting into the industry. I was confused about how to do it at the start, but then you pick up information from different people as you keep going. I would also say to stay true to your aesthetic and what you personally like. Keep shooting, that’s the only way that you figure it out. 

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