Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, filmmaker and provocateur Bruce LaBruce and Nobel Prize-winner poet and novelist Herta Müller all star in the new book by Victor Moreno, 2008-2018: Portraits of People I Admire. Starting out of curiosity when he was interviewing some of his idols for various publications, he’s now committed to capturing them before putting pen to paper. We speak with the Stockholm-based creative about how he builds a trusting relationship with those he portrays, funny anecdotes behind the scenes, and who couldn’t make it to this first volume.
As we see in this book, you’ve met and conversed with many extraordinarily talented people – in addition to taking their portraits. Is there a specific artist in your book that you admired the most?
Indeed, I feel very lucky to have had the chance to converse with such an array of talented and extraordinary people. Some of them – whether it was before or after I met them – are Academy-Award winners, Nobel Prize winners, Grammy winners and so forth. I feel lucky because to ask these people for the things I’m really curious about is a unique opportunity – things like, how do you make that specific thing to happen, what’s your take on this or that… In a way, all of them have been some sort of an influence to me. I learn things out from each conversation.
It’s a very luxurious chance, which you can then share with thousands of people when it gets published. It’s not about whether I admire a person more than another, but I have learned different things in different fields from each one of them. In this sense, photography opens doors to me and takes me closer to this kind of beautiful humans and the things that interest me. A good friend told me once that I am a person interested in the variety of people. Well, maybe he’s right!
Taking portraits is something intimate. You must create a relationship with the person in front of the camera since you’re about to capture him/her/them. How do you build this trusting relationship, even when the time is tight and you have to shoot in a few minutes?
Exactly, that relationship is what is all about to me. I always tend to take some snapshots after we know each other a bit. Otherwise, it wouldn’t feel honest. We can be together for about twenty, thirty, sixty minutes, and sometimes we spend some more time together or we meet up again later on. I think it is time enough to create a bond somehow, and of course, all these people are true professionals and they are very used to this kind of encounters and are always happy to help. Therefore, I like to let it grow organically. I don’t know, I want to believe that when you do something with enough love and respect, that message comes across very clearly. It is a very straightforward thing. I think it begins from the respect for someone’s work, and after knowing each other, it turns into respect for the actual person.
Can you tell us any funny, remarkable or shocking experience/anecdote related to any of the portraits that we see in the book?
Every single one is remarkable. Each of those experiences is a piece of my life. Sometimes we meet again, with some people we keep in contact, it varies. The context of how and where you meet up gives a mood always. However, for instance, I read the emotive lines actress and models (and people in general) who worked with German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh – who passed away recently – are putting out there, and it is pretty overwhelming the affection and respect he created, that energy and how people talk about him. So, my case is nothing compared to that, but that spirit resonates somehow.
My approach is to keep the person I will interview and/or take a portrait of engaged in the conversation, create a good atmosphere where we both can enjoy the conversation – you know, breaking the ice, defenses down – bearing in mind that, sometimes, other journalists just spoke to them about similar subjects, and I really want to avoid patterns of behaviour that make them repeating themselves like a robot. Instead, I want them to have a good time and to touch subjects that they could be passionate about too. And this requires to be rather focused on your work, of course.
From 2008 to 2018, you have been consistently adding to your book. That’s ten years worth of photographs compiled into a 64-page publication. How did you come up with this idea? What inspired you to start the book?
I’m doing this for my own sake – and for fun! Just a few photographs from this selection were published, the rest is unseen material coming from my personal stash. It is interesting, there was no masterplan. I love music and art, and that triggered the idea of writing. Taking pictures came kind of organically in the process. I’ve always been interested in photography somehow, but it all evolved naturally. I started taking pictures myself, and magazines and institutions were more than happy to have one guy to solve both tasks at the same time; easier for everybody.
Then, last year, I realized that it’s been ten years since I started out taking pictures more officially, publishing in different media worldwide, and like I said, I wanted to have a nicely packaged selection of my pictures in my shelf, just for my own sake. I spoke about it to long-standing friends, photographer Knotan and art director Jacob Huurinainen. These guys are amazing, most of the Swedish music stars want Knotan to shot them, and Jacob is a well-regarded art director in Scandinavia who, for instance, created the visual brand identity and communication for the Swedish fashion stores Weekday. 
They seem like really cool people to surround yourself with!
Currently, Knotan works not only in Scandinavia but he got an agent in Germany and Jacob works as a freelance, always creating some cool projects. I love their work and it’s such a luxury to count with their help and input. They are my friends, and when I asked them about this idea, they were very positive about it. They helped me to shape it, the concept of it and to get a final selection of photographs. I ditched more than twenty or thirty photographs of other amazing people too. Maybe I could use some of that for the next round, ha!
Could you please tell us some of the people who couldn’t make it this time?
I would have loved to have more room and add more photographs, but the result would’ve been a bit overwhelming, I think. Also, nobody knows about my work, so we agreed to this small format of paperback matched with this first selection of my photographs (laughs). I would need to revise my archive to remember all of them, but at the top of my mind are people of the likes of Kim Jones, Patti Smith and Redd Kross.
You’ve worked for a few years to create this book. When you first started, did you expect it to take this long?
The idea of the book is quite recent, but if you ask if I expected to do this for this long when I first started? Not at all (laughs). Wow, how could I? Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, it will never happen. But on other occasions, things just flow and opportunities come to you. I want to believe I will continue having more opportunities, and hopefully, try new cool things. I believe the sooner you realize what is your purpose in this world, the happiest your life will be. I don’t mean to take portraits of people is my purpose in life, but if you do something with a true meaning, I believe sooner or later it will stand for itself.
I didn’t even consider myself as a photographer until I realized that if I do it, enjoy it, and people like it, that’s more than I could ever ask for. Recently, I met Thurston Moore from the band Sonic Youth. I didn’t take for granted he would remember me. I took his portrait a few years ago, and that first meeting was one of the briefest ones I’ve had. I was totally pumped when he said, ‘of course, Victor, I really like your pictures!’
Your first book is doing seemingly well with it being sold on Konst-ig Books and Papercut worldwide, along with a book signing you mentioned in Stockholm. Have you already presented publicly, and can we expect (more) presentations?
It is so great to count with the support of Konst-ig to distribute the book worldwide. They are the largest art bookseller in Scandinavia. I guess like a music artist, for instance, if you sign with a specific label, lots of people who like that label will get to know your music and new artists through them – so I see Konst-ig in the very same way. ‘Konst’ means ‘art’ in Swedish and ‘konstig’ means ‘weird’, so that wordplay somehow resonates. A friend suggested to put some copies in other cool stores, so I contacted Papercut and Pet Sounds Records – arguably the best magazine and bookstore and record store in Stockholm. Both were very kind and happy to stock the book. I can’t think of a better scenario than these three places.
Furthermore, the book is also available abroad at Do You Read Me?! in Berlin, and Magma shops in London and Manchester also were happy to stock it. How cool is that? So I’m running out of copies, ha! It would be a dream to print a second batch. If some cool store somewhere else wants to stock a few books on their shelves, please get in touch [email protected] and let’s make it happen! I’m planning a small book signing, there have been some ideas and cool proposals but northing really quite felt a hundred per cent, so I want to do something effortless to project some slideshow on the walls, some music, have a few drinks, and sell all the books left to print more copies.
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