Varsity Interview

At the beginning of Michaelmas term 2015 I was interviewed by Ella Whiddett for the student newspaper Varsity. Here is a partial mirror of the article. You can find the full version online on Varsity’s webpage. Click on the photos to visit the corresponding blog post.

How did you get into photography initially?
I had been interested in photography since I first started using the family camera as a kid. I started photographing using a film camera, and later moved on to digital. The photos I took while growing up were mostly of my friends and family and our dog. There were a few occasions when I went out with the sole purpose of photographing, for example on one cold winter night I went out with a borrowed tripod and stood freezing knee-deep in snow to try and capture long exposure photos of cars driving by, their head lights making trails on the photos. In Amsterdam I did the odd photoshoot with some of my colleagues, and one of the photos ended up on the cover of the British Neuroscience Association’s magazine, but it was not until I came to Cambridge that things really took off.

Aoife and Tom kissing in the garden
All My Sons. Aoife Kennan, Tom Russell and Chris Born.

Why photography in Cambridge?
In Amsterdam I had been working in a large lab, but in Cambridge our group was quite small, so to meet new people I joined Phocus (the photography society). During my second year in Cambridge I helped organise events for Phocus, and also joined the PdOC committee where I became the official photographer. Fast-forward to 2014, and there was a request for a photographer for the opera Don Giovanni on the Phocus mailing list. I had started my photoblog the same year, and was more actively looking for things to photograph, so I emailed a link to my blog and offered to come and photograph their dress rehearsal. About two weeks later there was another request on the email list to photograph the dress rehearsal of Thing with Feathers at the ADC. After doing that I was hooked.

Joanna, Olivia and Thomas shouting at Joe in a church
Bare. Joanna Clarke, Joe Pitts, Olivia Gaunt and Thomas Taplin.

What has your relationship been like with the students of Cambridge?
I remember the first dress rehearsal I did at the ADC Theatre. I didn’t know or speak to anyone; I simply stood in front of the stage and took photos while they performed. Afterwards, I think the director or producer thanked me and asked when the photos would be ready. Over time I got to know the people at the theatre much better, which has made it a very rewarding experience. I have made many friends, and I hope to keep in touch with them.

Kaiti holding a singing frog in her hands
Disney inspired photoshoot with Kaiti Soultana.

Why did you decide to move back to Sweden?
The short answer is that my research contract ended. When I first moved abroad my intention was always to move back to Stockholm afterwards, but over the years it became less certain. In the end I did move back home, mostly because I have my family back here in Stockholm. If there had been another year on my contract then I would have loved to stay on! After my postdoc contract ended in April I stayed for two more months in Cambridge before moving back to Stockholm. During that time I photographed pretty much daily.

What will you miss most about Cambridge?
It is the people that make Cambridge what it is, and I will miss them the most. I liked all the little everyday adventures that we had. My biggest inspiration comes from the people I photograph; being immersed in the theatre society means there are both driven and creative people around you.

Hannah Grace Taylor resting her head on a pillow
50s inspired photoshoot with Hannah Taylor.

Whether in Stockholm or Cambridge, what is the most important part of a photo?
Every photo needs a subject, something that catches your attention and you want to capture in return. With theatre I try to anticipate what will happen and frame the photo to best capture the subject, preferably with some context to make the viewer see what I saw. I go through the photos and only keep a fraction of the ones I took. It is interesting to go back and look through old photos and see how my choice of “good photos” has changed. I have become less concerned with having everything sharp and in focus, and some photos that I previously rejected are now my favourites.

Will and Toby in the world war two play Himmelweg
Himmelweg. Will Bishop and Toby Marlow.

Sometimes you incorporate special effects into your photos – how much do you believe these can add?
Some photos are all about the effect, while in other cases it’s more subtle and the effect only enhances the photo. For example, you can switch the coordinate system from cartesian to polar, and create a mini-planet of a panorama, or you can photoshop out a person, leaving only their shoes and shadows. Those are examples of effect-driven photos. It is more subtle if you adjust contrast or colours to draw attention to a certain part of the photo, or if you clean up some wires or lights in the background. Finally you can use the effects as a crutch – you have a photo that failed, and you just play around with it to see what you can make. For instance, you might have a really busy photo of some acrobats, where they are lost against all the branches in the background, but by desaturating the background you make the colourful acrobats pop out.

Will and Beth almost kissing
Seven sins. Will Bishop and Bethan Davidson.

So what’s been your favourite shoot?
This is a really tricky question, there have been a lot in the last year. My favourite location shoot was probably King’s College Chapel roof. I had been trying to get up there for a few years and had almost given up hope. But when Emily Newton and I were talking about possible locations for the poster photoshoot for BARE I suggested the chapel roof, and I have no idea how she did it, but she managed to find a fellow to take us up there.

Another favourite was the Seven Silly Sins, partly because of how it evolved throughout the photoshoot. When we started out it was just me and Bethan Davidson, but we bumped into Flo Best and Will Bishop on the way, and our small band grew. While playing around with light and costumes, Flo suggested we should do the seven sins. It took an embarrassingly long time just to enumerate them, but then we made a plan, and even sent a runner to buy some candy and pastries for the gluttony photo. One of the things I really like about the photoshoots is the creative process, especially when everyone gets involved and we start to build on each other’s ideas.

Johannes Hjorth in the window frame
Portrait at a formal dinner in Peterhouse. Photo by Clara Novo.

People can find all of these shoots on your website which you treat as a diary – are you going to continue posting?
Absolutely. Before 2014 I photographed a few times each month. When I started my blog I tried to do at least one thing each week. I am finding new things to photograph in Stockholm, but I am also returning to Cambridge for short visits to photograph. I hope to make several trips during the next two years while I still know people there. My next visit is at the end of October.

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