London, Berlin and Paris are the three main cities that have shaped both her life and her career as a photographer, but she wants to keep moving around in order to write new chapters of her life. Emma Hartvig studied Fine Arts, so most of her pictures are imbued with influences from design, painting, sculpture and more specially cinema. Actually, she’s drawn to create images that look like stills from films, making the viewer wonder what happens next.
You are from Sweden, lived and studied in London and now you are based between Paris and Berlin. How has each city shaped and influenced you? Do you dream about living and working in any other city?
Each city certainly holds different aspects of my life and career. London was important since it was the big buzzing city I escaped to from my small hometown. I was very young and it shaped me, made me stronger and held a wonderful role in the process of finding my voice as a photographer. Berlin was where I had my little family and found the importance of life. Paris is the most beautiful place to meet creative people and make work to be proud of. My journey isn’t done, and soon enough I’ll live somewhere else that suits our current life.
How did you get inspired to explore photography? What fascinates you about it? Have you explored other art forms?
Back when I was a lot younger I studied Fine Arts – so painting, sculpture and design. I started photographing very early but it was naturally influenced by colours and shapes – hence my quite graphic and sculptural approach. I later got very inspired by cinema, which is the most evident impact on my work. I love stories and the idea of a film still, a frozen moment, an urge to find out more about what happens after the photo is taken. Photography feels like a meeting point for all art forms. You can make it very painterly, graphic, cinematic, static, real or fictional. It’s an art form that never limits me.
You have a very clear style, while many artists have to work on it for a very long time. How did you manage to create your own aesthetic?
You know, I get asked about this quite often and I have realized that the only answer is that it just comes naturally. Of course I’ve worked hard for many years, shot crazy amount of images – but I just shoot what I’m drawn to and I use the colours that I like. I’m being very honest and open to myself about what I want. There’s no real ‘technique’, as I shoot both daylight and artificial, and I use both film and digital and work on both location and in studio. I think the key is not to try too hard, and then your own style will follow you no matter where you shoot, what camera you use or what idea is thrown at you.
Each of your photographs has a very cinematic feel to them, as you said. Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you get inspired by actual films, photographers who use cinematic elements, or by the situations in your daily life?
Oh, all of it! I think I get lots of ideas on how to compose by watching movies or looking at other photographer’s work – which I then turn into my own style. The concept or the general idea of the photo certainly comes from my own life. I mean, it’s no secret that my work is very feminine. I love expressing that soft, sensual, strong and mysterious world of women.
In order to create your clean and elegant style, each process of your photographs has to be planned in detail. How do you plan your shoots? What is your process? Is the planning of the shoot – lighting, the composition or the postproduction – the most important part? Or are they all equally important?
I plan my shoots quite carefully most of the time. Actually, when I do personal work (like The Swimmers or LA story) I plan less. I suppose that’s because I just photograph whatever is in my head and what I naturally love. Regarding editorial or commercial work, I plan very carefully in terms of whom I photograph, where I do it and what the general mood around the shoot should be. And a client of course also leads it. However, it’s important for me to tell a certain story, that each body of work has it’s own world. I use different light techniques depending on the atmosphere I want. I do lots of postproduction if I shoot digitally, but very little if I shoot on film, so it matters and it doesn’t at the same time.
Although you produce clean and thought images, you leave a lot of freedom of imagination to the viewer. Why are you interested in the idea of seduction? What do you like about introducing mystery in you series?
I love it! It’s the most important part of my work. And the reason is probably because this is how photography affects me. I’m drawn to photos that seduce me and make me feel something. I like it when art touches your senses. The best work is the kind that makes you want to dive into the artist’s world entirely. Like when you read a wonderful book and after you read the writer’s entire bibliography. And like a film still. You see a great still and you will rush to the cinema.
In many of your photographs, the colour of the subject contrasts with the colour of the background or another object. What effect do you want to achieve by doing this?
It’s just my love for colour and shapes, really. I am very attached to this. I think the way you use colour, light and shape is essential to your style and I think it’s almost impossible for photographers to have the same way of using these tools. It’s so personal what you love and what you’re drawn to.
You create beautiful shapes with the body of your models in your photographs, and you mainly shoot female subjects. Is there a specific reason why you prefer shooting women?
This is something I have a hard time answering as I’m still figuring this out. It’s an exciting journey through my own head, kind of. It’s certainly nothing political. I think I just love femininity. And since I’m a woman, I can express this from my point of view.
Are you currently working on any projects or planning new shoots?
Oh yes, many! It’s going to be a busy autumn.
What are your next plans? Will we see an exhibition or a publication of your photographs anytime soon?
There are plenty of new things that will come out.