The Age of Weakness and the Age of Strength


An interview with Sandra Mehl

Sandra Mehl won our recent theme ‘Youthhood’ with her wonderfully dynamic image of a young French girl, Maddelena, climbing the wall next to her home. It’s an image imbued with youthful imagination, celebrating an escape from dull surroundings, in an aesthetically rich composition.

The image comes from Sandra’s social documentary series ‘Maddelena et Ilona’, which follows the exploits of these two captivating young girls, and in doing so comments on how the media tends to portray the working class. It’s a poignant and timely message, captured through gorgeous, intimate compositions.

We sat down with Sandra to ask her more about how the series developed, about her journey into photography, and about how she uses a personal subject matter to frame a type of social activism.



Hi Sandra – Firstly, congratulations on winning our eighth theme ‘Youthhood’. Can you tell us a little more about the image?

This image was taken last December, on the day of Maddelena’s birthday. She became 11 years old. For the occasion, she wore a golden dress with sparkles, and vivid red fake nails. She was very happy and decided to go out, even though it was cold. She climbed the wall of her building, the unit 26 of the Gély neighbourhood, with a lot of freedom, without taking into account the looks of people.

Tell us about your background? How did you first get into photography, and what led you down a documentarian path?

I am a self-taught photographer, with a background in social sciences: I have masters degrees in both sociology and political sciences. I started photography when I was teenager and my passion has always been photographing people: my family, my friends and the people I meet when travelling. I started working on long term projects 4 years ago. For me, there is a narrow link between social sciences and photography: on one hand you try to understand the way societies function, and on the other hand you show it with images.