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Sabine Mirlesse’s series Preventricular Arrhythmia captures the intense emotional bonds often found in the relationships of young urban couples. Probing issues of identity, expectation, uncertainty and interpersonal intimacy, these portraits seem both readily familiar, yet almost voyeuristically unique. Much like the medical term used as the title of the series, which refers to a common condition of atypical heart beats, there is something unsettling to the complexity of feelings which are so universal, yet still remain such privileged moments within the experience of each individual.

Imagista’s arts editor, Michael Tweed, sat down with Sabine to ask her a few questions…

What inspired you to shoot this story in particular?

This series is really based on a familiar, well-worn theme: young love in the big city. I like the challenge of taking on an age-old subject and trying your best to make it new. In many ways it’s more difficult than working in a subject space less trodden.
My previous series had included a lot of images of family, and so it made sense to explore the other significant relationships in one’s life. As cliché as it might sound, at the time I myself was just coming off a separation and was overwhelmed with finding out how other young couples navigated their relationships. The series began in New York and then continued in Paris where I am living at present.

How do you choose the couples?

Most are either friends or friends of friends. It is somewhat difficult to enter such intimate settings unless you know the people and have a certain amount of trust established.

These portraits are obviously very intimate and convey quite strong emotions, how do you achieve the raw intensity that is found in these photos?

Some of the intimacy occurs simply by default because most people I know in New York live in quite small apartments, often just one-room studios without even a separate bedroom. In addition to this, most people have jobs (sometimes even two) so the only time to shoot was in the evening, perhaps after dinner, so I was already invited into a rather private setting.

In most of the portraits I preferred to use the ambient light in the room which meant that at times a bit of direction was required to work with or accommodate the already present light conditions. Then within these given boundaries it’s often a matter of waiting for the right moment I suppose.

It also depends a lot on the personality of the individuals involved. Some people are quite natural performers, in fact some would already even have a concept in mind of how they would like to be photographed, right down to what they were wearing. Other people were more timid or had never been photographed before so they would seek more direction and need more assurance. My one requirement though has been that the couple be in physical contact with one another.

Have you noticed any differences between the shoots you have done in New York and those in Paris?

Well, Paris seems less claustrophobic, which adds a different dimension to the whole thing. Affordable apartments are hard to come by in New York, and during my years there I even met couples who would move in together after just three months simply for economic reasons, as sharing would chop their expenses in half. In Paris there appears to be a bit more space, yet the apartment buildings are generally older of course and with that comes a heavier atmosphere laden as the spaces are with the stories of previous residents over the centuries.

Do you feel you have exhausted this topic or is it an ongoing project?

Even though this story has not been a primary focus for me, I have really appreciated the positive and enthusiastic response to the images. So whenever I meet a couple I think might be an interesting addition I ask to do their portrait and if they agree we try to make an image together to be added to the series.


Photographer: Sabine Mirlesse

Writer: Michael Tweed