Love Me Again stands as a profound introspection of growth, vulnerability and the force of female resilience, marking the inaugural publication of Michella Bredahl. In our conversation, we walk through the decade spanning journey behind these intimate portraitures, and the thoughtful care poured into the image selection that unfolded over several months with Loose Joints. We touch upon the mutual trust needed to work with friends as models, capturing them in their most intimate spaces -beds, couches, bathtubs- morphing the environments into characters themselves.
Drawing on her film school background, Michella contends that these rooms are as crucial as the characters, a perception further influenced from her hectic childhood home, where “we had everything, from flowers, rocks, tacky things”. Turbulent both visually and in its nature, her childhood home profoundly influences Love Me Again, serving as a response to the challenges she faced during her upbringing.
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Congratulations on the release of your first publication, Love Me Again! Reflecting on this journey, what experiences has it offered you both as an artist and as an individual?
I have learned so many things, but especially that it is ok not to be able to put into words what you are trying to express as an artist when you start out. You are on your way and you are learning. You will make mistakes, but that is what you want to learn from. It’s part of living. When others around you try to talk you down or criticise you, it doesn't help to listen to them. Only you know where you are going and that is the most important voice to listen to. It's at the end that you can take people's criticism and you make your status, but when you're on the way, you have to be allowed to make mistakes. I have really learned now that the inner voice is much stronger when I first started out as an artist. At film school, I was studiously told by my teacher that if you stand on a corner long enough, people will eventually notice you. That's how I kind of see it with being an artist. You leave the pack and stand alone for many years. It's like learning a language no one else speaks. It takes time before others start to understand your new language. It has been incredibly beautiful that so many of my friends and people have supported me and let me photograph them in some of the most intimate moments of their lives for so many years. I feel incredibly blessed to be given all these moments with people and especially my friends.
I really still learn something every time I photograph. What I am probably still being taught all the time is not to judge. You never know what a person carries around inside or has been through, regardless of who they are.
The book compiles portraits you’ve taken over a decade. Tell us more about the process of choosing what’s in and what’s out among such a vast array of pictures. What criteria did you use?
I have selected images in collaboration with Loose Joints, who have published the book. It was a long process over several months. Sarah Piegay Espenon from Loose Joints has been looking through my archive spanning more than a decade. I traveled to Marseille to their office, where we made a smaller selection together, and from there we emailed back and forth until we decided and agreed on the final selection. It was not easy to decide which pictures should and should not be included. I am very attached to all of my pictures. It was a very moving period for me to revisit all these photos and memories. On top of that I was even trapped in Berlin with a broken foot at the same time. I am happy with where we ended up with the selection and the book. We didn't really have any criteria, it was mostly about finding a collection of images that made sense together for us and expressed different things and moods about femininity. Truly this book was a collaboration, not only with the publishers, but all so with some of my dearest friends.
Your collection portrays an intimate glimpse into the lives of women, capturing them in their most personal spaces, including their beds, couches and bathtubs. The settings and environments in your photographs are almost characters in themselves, adding depth and context to the portraits. Can you discuss the significance of the locations you choose and how they contribute to the overall narrative of your work?
I graduated from the Danish film school, where I studied cinema. I have directed several films. While attending film school, I learned how important a room is in a film. It is as important as the characters when you want to tell a story, at least to me. A room can tell an infinite amount of things about a character. It tells us something about life. The time that has passed. The future and the present. All the details are so important in a space. That’s why I spend a lot of time and thought around the rooms I photograph in. It makes a big difference if a person is sitting by a light that falls on them or if they are sitting in the shade. These are the kinds of things I immediately see when I enter a space.
In addition, I worked as a model for many years when I was a teenager and I was often photographed there in a studio. This has meant that I cannot shoot in a studio. Maybe mostly because I remember how it made me feel back then, and I associate that feeling with a white space. The rooms that I shoot in, I want them to have a connection to the people that I photograph. Though sometimes I shoot in hotels or other familiar [spaces] as well.
In my childhood home, my mother had painted all the rooms in our apartment different colours. We had everything from flowers, rocks, tacky things. These are some of the things I locate again through my photography. My mother spent a lot of time in her bedroom. She was the first person to give me a camera. I remember photographing her in her bedroom or in the kitchen while she was cooking. Sometimes in the bathroom too. As well, I would photograph my little sister in her room too. When we got the pictures back from development, I loved sitting and looking at them. We would put them in our albums. Many years later I collected all the albums and I brought them to the film school and hung them on the walls in my editing room. My photography is very much connected to a lot of feelings I experienced around this time of my life. I can see when I look at my photography that I am drawn to photographing the girl and the woman in their spaces. It is an extension of these first moments in my life, in my own home with a camera.
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
Your portfolio displays a wide range of poses, including one of a woman in a light blue top and underwear, reclining on the carpet and resting her head on an armchair. Can you share the influences and inspirations behind those poses?
I have always photographed girls and women lying down. When I went to film school I discovered that I did it because my teacher had given me an assignment to film someone outside. I came back with a two hour recorded film with girls lying on the grass. Instead of questioning it or seeing it as something odd, I decided to accept it and pursue studying it. I made a film where I studied girls and women in their bedrooms and spaces. Again, I think it is very much connected to my mother. She wasn't feeling well most of my childhood. She spent a lot of time lying down. I grew up with this image of the woman. I think the camera became a way I could endure being in it. It's not always so easy to explain, but I think there is an explanation. It's probably about creating light out of something dark. Every time I photograph, something inside me loosens. I create new poses and memories that slowly over the years have replaced the sad image I grew up with of my mother. I didn't grow up in a creative family, so I think my photography also has this duality. I discovered photography and film very late. Some of the first female filmmakers and photographers that I was enthralled with and still am are: Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Maya Daren, Nan Goldin, Lise Sarfati, Diane Arbus, and lately Deana Lawson. I would study their pictures and films for hours and feel like I belonged in their pictures. I also find inspiration there. Even though all their photography is so different from each other, there is something similar that brings them all together. I still can’t grasp what it is exactly, but it’s definitely something about the poses and the spaces that immediately resonate with me.
Your photographs seem to evoke a sense of empowerment and self-expression. How do you hope your work resonates with viewers, especially those who might identify with the themes you explore?
When you are lying down you are most vulnerable. Especially as a woman or a person who is feminine. I'm trying to rebel with that narrative. Again, I also think that my time as a model has destroyed something inside me. I would lie down a lot and pose to sell something for someone. The gaze I did it for wasn't always pure or in my interest. I often experienced that what I felt inside was not connected with the outside. I therefore want to give whoever poses for me a different experience than my experiences were with posing for photographers. That the quote unquote posing comes from them and that what is within resonates with what is seen in the picture. I want to photograph my generation as I see them and as they see themselves. As they are truly in their homes.
What message or feeling do you aim to convey through your art, particularly in the context of feminine energy and empowerment?
I think we can tell the strongest stories and touch one another when we tell our own stories. This is also why I am attracted to my own world and the people I see and hang out with. I am surrounded by so much feminine energy. I have always been surrounded by it. First in my childhood home. My mother was incredibly feminine. There were always women over and they got ready in my mother's bedroom. Later I did it myself with all my girlfriends. We came from very different backgrounds and cultures. My best friend's parents were from the old Yugoslavia and my other friend's mother was from Poland. My neighbours were from Somalia. I experienced all these cultures and different ways of being feminine. After that I modelled for about 7 years since I was 14. As I modelled I felt that my femininity was instructed or limited. Sometimes I also felt it was liberating. That was the best feeling. When I connected with a photographer who brought something out of me that truly felt like me.
I want to advocate and perpetuate for all that I find beautiful about femininity. To me femininity is so strong and beautiful. I believe that femininity doesn’t only belong to her. It’s an essence. It can belong to any person.
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
Actually, empowerment has become such a widely used term that it almost feels like it’s lost its power. Everything seems empowering nowadays. Could you reflect a bit on that? What is truly empowering to you, and how can we avoid being fooled by marketing strategies by brands that use the terminology lightly and meaninglessly?
It’s not term I go around using or telling someone before I photograph them, “I want to take an empowering photo of you”. It is something others started using to describe my work. For me, I think it's more about wanting to create something that feels honest and bringing people together. I know I've said it so many times and you must be tired of me soon, but when I was a model it rarely felt honest and I felt like I was helping to create an image that was dishonest. And honestly, I don't see how a world dominated by money in its essence can be empowering. There are a lot of images that are created to sell something, and although those pictures can be beautiful too, it’s less about empowerment. A desire to create a better world is empowering to me. The truth is empowering. You have to show people something they don't necessarily want to look at.
Right now I feel the world needs everyone to come together and show that we are calling for a new world. A world in which we live much more in contact with nature and let love guide the world. I just had my first solo show in New York. After the exhibition, we put a blanket on the floor and everyone joined around and we all ate together. We didn't need anything else. Not even cutlery or a table, to be together as people. These are the values I believe we should return to. This is empowering to me. All you really need is music, lights, food and each other. I feel what’s truly empowering to me is bringing people together. It’s in these moments I am the happiest. To me friendship is truly empowering. Pictures that empower and inspire women and people to shine. Not just to end it there, I went to Madonna’s concert the other day in Paris. She is also someone that inspires people to shine. To me that was a very empowering moment as well. Whatever you have to say about Madonna, she brought people together that night with her voice and art. I was dancing next to people I didn’t know. I think that’s the power of art, if you can touch and bring people together it is meaningful and empowering.
Working with your friends as models instead of casting professionals surely brought unique dynamics to the experience. Did your friends offer any valuable insights about your work as a photographer, shedding light on aspects of your artistry that you might not have noticed? Did you find that you learned more about yourself, both as a photographer and as an individual?
Yes, incredibly, I talk a lot with my friends about my photography, especially because almost all of them have been models for me, but are also artists themselves. We have long talks. Their opinions have been invaluable. It is of such a great value that it cannot fairly be quantified. I wouldn't have gone this far with my photography if it wasn't for all my friends. My friends are my family. They are my whole world and part of so many different aspects of my practice as an artist. I normally only have my friends look at my photographs. They are the only ones I trust.
Could you share more about what it was like working with your friends as subjects? Were they actively involved in the creative process, going beyond their roles as models? If so, how did their involvement shape the final outcome of your work?
It is different from friend to friend how much they get involved or want to be part of the process. My friends are very different. But where I never make a difference is that they have the last word. If there are pictures they don't want me to use, I don't use them. That's the promise. My friend Tyi, who is in the book. The woman in the bathtub. She is a great artist too. Tyi and I are both very inspired by each other. We share each others ideas and feelings about our work and what we find beautiful. Not only do I like to take Tyi’s portrait, I love her vision. She always takes a look at my images. She is also a writer. We share stories with each other. I love my friends, they are essential for my creative process.
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
Your photography style is deeply personal and familiar. Is there a female photographic portraitists whose work influenced you or shaped the way you capture emotions and stories through your lens?
There is not just one, I have many. I have many photo books by female photographers in my house. The person who probably had the biggest impression on me was Diane Arbus. I discovered her photography when I was 20 years old, because a friend of mine who was a photographer had a photo book of her’s. I was at his house and he gave me the book. I looked inside it and was completely enthralled. I went home afterwards and found out all about her on the Internet. I looked at her pictures every day. I printed them out and hung them up in my room. It was a new start for me. Then I discovered Nan Goldin, Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, Lise Sarfati and so many more. They all have had a great impact on me.
Your book description reveals your upbringing in a turbulent home environment in Høje Gladsaxe, a large social housing complex. How does your past, particularly your experience at home, influence your present work and the perspective you bring to it?
The difficult things I have experienced have strangely given me enormous joy about life and existence today. It’s funny how life is like that. Now my life is enormously different from what it once was. I am incredibly grateful with where my life is today, but I never forget where I came from or where I started. What I have had to go through. I hope it stays like that, that I keep both feet on the ground.
You mentioned you were scouted as a model when you were a teenager, “objectified, gazed upon, subjected to the whims of men and power.” If given the chance, would you choose to deter your younger self from entering the modelling environment? Or do you believe those challenging experiences played a significant role in your personal growth, shaping you both as an individual and as an artist?
Yes, I would not change that I modelled. I am incredibly grateful for everything I have experienced in my life and I believe that all experiences can teach you something. Even though there were many unpleasant experiences working as a model, there were also a lot of beautiful experiences. I don’t think there is anything wrong with modelling in itself. It’s the industry around it that can be toxic. I was young and it definitely helped lead me on my way to an artistic life. I was also very poor. My parents were poor. I had never traveled with my parents. I got out and experienced the world. I saved up and used that money from modelling to pay for an art school, that school changed the course of my life. All I wish was that I could go back and tell that little girl that there was nothing wrong with her, but that it was the things that happened in her home that were wrong.
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
Through this book, it’s become apparent that numerous people trust your work and willingly collaborate with your creative ideas. This trust not only comes from industry professionals but also from the people you photograph, who believe in your ability to represent them authentically. How does it feel to have this level of confidence placed in your work, and does it influence your creative process?
It feels unreal. When I had to get people's approval of their image for the book, I was sure many of them would say no. Especially because of the nudity. It was the complete contrary. It’s not only friends in the book. There are also people I don’t know well, but I felt I connected with a lot when I photographed them. I am very grateful for all the trust I have received and joy I encounter through my photography. It's a celebration. I could only take those pictures because my friends and people I meet trusted me. I trusted them too. We trusted each other. They dared to go out there with me. If they become uncertain of my intention, then I become uncertain. It is thanks to each and everyone in this book that it came into being.
To finish, what other projects are you currently working on?
I am working on a film about a young French girl who is about to become an actress. I have been filming with her for a year. I plan to give that all my time for next year.
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints
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© Michella Bredahl 2023 courtesy Loose Joints