The Toronto photographer capturing the joy of friendship in your early 20s
After submitting an image we loved to My Month in a Photo, Sarah Berglund shows us more of her captivating work.
At 22 years old, the Canadian photographer is taken with the nature of relationships and platonic love. In “friend of a friend”, the artist's portrait-based photo series, depicting a loose assemblage of friends, Sarah captures the way relationships ephemerally unfold, and memories can gain new meaning as time progresses. At once introspective and nostalgic, Sarah's friendly portraits portray the nature of relationships in your twenties with a penetrating gaze.
A solitary teenager, Sarah had always been drawn to moments of human connection. Navigating feelings of loneliness in her adolescence, the work of photographers like Olivia Bee served as an expression and inspiration of the love and intimacy she yearned to experience. “Because I was really shy and I was pretty quiet, I spent a lot of time alone in high school,” she says. “During that time, photography showed me a way to connect to other people. It showed me a way to reach out and find a network of friends.”
Moving to Toronto to attend university afforded her a chance for connection through the introduction of the central figure in “friend of a friend”, Sungeun. “We met in philosophy class, and she immediately became one of my closest friends,” Sarah says. “At the time, I was feeling really disconnected from the university experience. I wasn't really sure of what I was doing or what I was interested in.”
“One day in class, we were doing a group project and [Sungeun] just reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, you want to be in my group?’ And now that seems so insignificant, but it meant so much to me.” After leaving school, Sarah travelled to South Korea to see Sungeun in her home country. Now separated in part due to the restrictions posed by the pandemic, the two keep in touch mostly through FaceTime calls and texts, but that hasn't diminished their strong connection.
Sungeun introduced Sarah to a network of friends, artists and young folks in the city of Toronto. “friend of a friend” embodies how friendship can be quite life-altering. “With each person, it just started with an introduction. I originally messaged Sungeun on Instagram and was like, ‘Hey, can you just see if anyone would be interested in meeting and hanging out and taking pictures with me?’” Soon enough, she had what were once strangers’ phone numbers and dates to shoot photos. “Then the rest just happened naturally from there. I began reaching back out to people who I felt like I had a friend connection with, who I shared interest with.”
In the months since Sarah began making her new friends, bonds grew around the act of sharing these photos. “I'll send pictures I've taken to my friends, and then they'll respond like, ‘Oh, I like this one’ or we'll reflect on our shared memories surrounding specific photos.” One friend of the photographer will even call her and talk through what he likes about the photos. For Sarah, this kind of sharing is encouraging. “I love being around people who are supportive of each other in their artistic practices.”
Naturally, “friend of a friend” explores shared memories, and each image serves as a prompt to reflect on the past. “A lot of memories take time to understand. Often, you don't fully realise what actually happened until a really long time after originally looking at them. These photographs are time capsules of all of these moments in my life. Looking at all these photos, obviously, they are of other people, but they're all my memories, which is so weird to think about because they feel so separate from me. It's almost as if the photos are these little fragments that have been taken out of my memory. I can't remember the photo — I remember the before and the after, but the photos now are just something I hold in my hands.”
Many of her portraits capture her friends in threes, capturing them at a close, medium and far distance. Of the three, her wider portraits are the most engaging. Situated in various Toronto locales, these portraits build entire visual worlds around their subjects. Her subjects become reflected, through colour, tone and form, in their landscape. “I realised that I really value giving 100% of my attention to someone when I'm with them. Everything else falls away.”
Luckily for us, Sarah has no plans of concluding “friend of a friend”. As she looks towards the future, the next step is to explore publishing the series — finding new ways to narrativise this web of relationships. “I'm still just so fascinated by the love that people can have for one another,” she finishes with. I love experiencing that, I just want to look at it.”
Photography Sarah Berglund