Meet the Maker: Elisabeth Sunday

It all started with an image posted years ago to my Art mood board. A mother and child.

In a serendipitous series of events, at an Anyon Atelier art opening, landscape designer Stephen Suzman mentioned he had just visited with Elisabeth and would l like to meet her.
Meeting with Elisabeth, I became completely engrossed in her work and her process (my own trip to Africa having left a strong impression on me).  We had both lived in Oakland, both had family in Cleveland, Ohio. Having just had my own daughter despite the odds stacked against me, I knew I had to have this piece I had coveted for years - “Binta” … “Daughter” .
Elisabeth lives for months at a time with her subjects. She uses a process, developed and unique to her - known as Field Mirror Photography. She does not photograph the subject directly. Rather she shoots a mirror reflection of the subject which creates a beautiful elongation of the subject as well as a sense of privacy that might be lost if in direct photographing of the subject. Her work has been described as “heroic yet sensitive.”
The result is an intimate portrayal especially of her female subjects. The wind has caught their veil -  there is a hint of their facial profile or a private moment between mother and child.

“My work was inspired by a series of vivid and transformative dreams of elongated and undulating imagery influenced by a painting my grandfather had made of Mangbetu Women in the Congo in 1931. Not long after the dreams occurred, I searched for ways to elongate my images, as I had seen them, and began photographing with the mirror in 1983. I continue to use the mirror as a visual interpreter for the invisible forces that bind the forms of life together; each one connected through a pulsing, writhing sea of forms and shapes, from the great to the small, the complex to the simple. The mirror is a creative tool, like a paintbrush or pencil that allows me to draw a doorway to another world and travel inward into a place of spirit, strength and beauty; a dwelling place common to the human soul.”

  Elisabeth Sunday

I recently Zoomed with Elisabeth in her incredible sprawling chateau in Normandy, France.  We spoke of our daughters. Hers - now expecting her own child.

Elisabeth’s work in Africa also explores the relationship between human, animal and nature. Elisabeth met a group of Akan fishermen living along the beach who were willing to be photographed over a period of time. The fish, sometimes cradled in the arms of the powerful fishermen, are an ancient symbol of higher awareness and provide a proof of their continuous link to nature. Elisabeth simply asked the men to express their love for the sea through the fish they capture. The resulting portfolio of the Akan is an intimate look at their bond with the sea and the natural world and the respect they have for both. 

“All peoples living in the context of nature know how to find clean water, hunt, make fire, build shelter, and know the difference between edible and poisonous plants. They understand sustainable living so as not to deplete their resources. They can take care of themselves and also share in the same things everyone else on earth shares in; happiness, love, community and play. To my great honor, I was a guest in their homes.

The Akan fishermen’s artisan tradition of sustainable fishing has been passed down, from father to son, for four thousand years along the west African coast. The photographs speak of their bond with nature through the fish they capture by the way they hold them. The elongation invites the viewer into the photograph and demonstrates their connection to the sea and to nature.”



Elisabeth is a third generation artist of a multi racial family. She is inspired by her father, the most important African American stained glass artist Douglas Phillips.
Her mother was a master artist and ceramicist Jane T. Spangler and her grandmother poet, musician, elocutionist, gospel singer, dancer, and dramatic reader, Suzanne Douglass. Her  grandfather, American painter Paul B. Travis  inspired her travels to Africa. When Travis returned from serving in World War One, he accepted a teaching position at the Cleveland School of Art where he taught for 38 years. In 1928, at the age of 36, Travis used a sabbatical from teaching to take an eight-month trip to Africa.

I invite you to view some of Elisabeth’s moving photography here. We are honored to have her work and spirit in our Atelier.

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