An award-winning photographer much in demand, Sophie Ebrard’s work has appeared in publications all over the world. Yet photography is her second career, after advertising. Born in France, Ebrard now lives between Amsterdam and London, with her partner and one-year-old son, Jules. She talks about taking risks, finding beauty in life, and how she manages long-haul flights and celebrity shoots with a baby

Photography is your second career. What inspired you to make the leap from your first job in advertising?
I had made it to a senior role in advertising, in charge of a global account over 53 countries. Yet the creative side was gone. That’s when I started to feel that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I decided to give photography a go for six months. So, from 6 January 2010, when I met someone new, I told them I was a photographer. It was a start at least.

Did it feel like a brave move?
Yes! I needed to stop my job before I went crazy, but I had to learn photography from scratch. I had always loved taking photographs, even in childhood, but I didn’t know anything aside from point and shoot. I researched, and contacted all the photographers I really liked. Having mentors is really helpful.

Did you find work quickly?
I was lucky. People I had worked with in advertising gave me my first jobs. In the UK it seems that people are a lot more open about career changes. I don’t think it would have happened in France.

You became a photographer in January 2010. In October 2013, your son was born. How did this change things?
I was totally scared. A friend told me she was given less work once she had a baby. I was worried that people’s perception of me was going to change. As a result, I never posted pictures of myself pregnant on social media and I hid a little. When Jules was born, it was the same. I do regret that in a way. The truth is, last year was my busiest year and I made it work with him.

Does Jules travel with you on work jobs?
Oh yes. I was breast-feeding until 10 months, so from the start, I made sure I brought him with me. Last year, we were on lots of long haul flights, including LA and New York (twice).

How do you manage it?
Sometimes my nanny comes with me to look after Jules on set. In New York my boyfriend was there, on another shoot, I had my parents… The first year was just about trying to survive, trying to make it work. I was shooting celebrities, so it was really full on. It was challenging, but there were some amazing times.

What was the most challenging shoot?
We went to New York to shoot Michael Bublè for Rolex. Then it was back to Amsterdam with a 10 day turnaround before LA, to shoot James Cameron. The jet-lag for Jules in New York was horrific. My boyfriend was taking him for walks in Central Park at 5am so I could sleep. I knew I was going to be on a long-haul flight to LA on my own with him, and then I would have to do the nights on my own whilst shooting. I was still feeding. I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
So… I kept Jules on New York time zone for those 10 days. We went to bed at 3am and woke at 2pm. Luckily my boyfriend was really helpful, and we did a lot of playing at weird times. It was worth it. When I got to LA, Jules was in the perfect time zone.  There are solutions for everything – you just have to be creative.

How did your subjects react to having a baby on set?When I was shooting James Cameron on that LA trip, the thing I remember most was him talking to Jules. We spoke together about families a lot. It was such a great shoot. The same when I shot Roger Federer: he had just announced that his wife was pregnant again (although he didn’t mention it was with a second set of twins!) Having Jules with me meant we had a very open conversation about pregnancy. I think when people see I’m a mother, it helps with a certain amount of bonding and ease.

Has the way you photograph changed since you became a mother?
I think that while I shoot in the same way, I’ve become more sensitive to people. Maybe I’m more careful, more compassionate.

What do you wish people had told you about motherhood?
That there is an end to the tunnel! At the beginning it felt like I was just managing things to keep the baby alive. I loved my life before, and didn’t want to change it. It’s so hard to place that time. And then – it started to be fun. Jules is starting to be really funny, and I love hanging out with him.

Your work is renowned for finding the beauty in everyday things. Does this translate into your daily life?
I avoid looking at things that aren’t beautiful. I’ve always been attracted to beauty and light – I grew up in the Alps, where every day was beautiful. When I take pictures, I always try to see the beauty in the people or the place I’m shooting. That’s my forte. I think that’s why my work attracts people in advertising: I find beauty in the mundane.

Your first solo project is a behind-the-scenes look at pornography. What made you dig into this subject?
I wanted to do a project with naked people, and it’s hard to ask friends to do that! My ex-agent took me to a swingers party to meet people. It was so interesting – once I’d got over being scared and having giggling fits, that is. I saw people having sex in front of me: it was a real eye opener. I wished I’d had my camera, because the way the bodies were entwined was very pretty. Suddenly I understood sculpture, and how the human body is amazingly beautiful. From that moment, I knew I wanted to do a project with the human body.

…and why pornography?
At the party, I met a porn director and his girlfriend, the stylist on set. We got on well, and they invited me to their next shoot. I went to Stoke on Trent, to a 17th Century castle where they were filming, and then Spain, Wales, Inverness… I suppose you would call it high-end porn. It’s the best you can find if you’re looking for it. I was lucky because the sets were beautiful, and I met some very nice people.

What did you learn?
The view in pornography is often very close up, with a lot of lighting. When I showed my pictures to the actors, they were amazed, and it struck me that they had never seen themselves like this. Seeing it from my angle, it looked more like a film set. Some of the photographs are beautiful, some are funny… I wanted to tell people that I had fun, and it wasn’t a bad experience. I’m looking for an exhibition space at the moment.

Did you take Jules on those shoots?
No, but I would have if I’d been breast-feeding. He’d have been too small to remember, and the people were lovely.

You live between East London and Amsterdam, and have a house in Cape Verde. Does your identity change from place to place?
I do play different roles in different countries. Amsterdam is chilled, so I’m more a mum there, and focussed on editing. In London, that’s when I capture the vibrancy and excitement of the city, get energised, meet people, start new projects. Cape Verde is a holiday. I shoot lots of images there, and it’s also where I reconnect, do sports, and be in the sun.

What do you want to model to your son?
I want him to grow up seeing that when you’re passionate about things, you can go anywhere you want. You can be successful. That’s not something just for mothers or women, but for him too. It’s willpower.

sophieebrard.com

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