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Interview with Photographer Isabella Ståhl

Monday 13 February 2017

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Words Spindle

Isabella Ståhl is a Swedish photographer, with an eye for capturing the beauty of nature’s majestic, wintery landscapes. Isabella’s appetite for documenting through photography began with a thirst to feed her imagination and recording a memory, and continues to aspire to capturing ‘the perfect photograph’. Currently based in Paris and northern Sweden, Isabella’s passion for shooting natural scenery can be identified through growing up in rural Sweden, and being constantly exposed for some of the world’s most breathtaking scenes. Now with dreams to head to the States and set her lens on what she may discover across the Atlantic, we ask Isabella more about this goal, as well as quizzing her on the concepts and processes behind her work.

How did you get started with photography?

I don’t remember a specific moment, I guess it just grew on me. As a child I had a huge imagination and I was looking at art as a way to gain liberty. It helped to shape my curiosity, discover the world and dream about places far away. I’ve always been interested in movies and photographs were a more convenient way to express my feelings and explore my surroundings. Being creative sometimes helps with boredom and anxiety and when you later look back at photographs they have established a memory. Even if the moment was not spectacular or anything at the day of the event, it will grow with time and become something else than it really was, it’ll become valid. I think it’s a strange and interesting phenomenon.

What do you think makes a good photograph?

Well it’s hard to say. I think it has to be meaningful in some way, for the author or as a subject. It has to come through that the creator has put some soul into it and bring a new shine to whatever it is that you portrayed. It also has a lot to do with lighting since the light creates the mood. I think it’s important to remember that the photograph has to mean something to yourself, and hopefully also convey some sort of feeling for others to slow down and observe.

“I think nature is one of the most important and beautiful things in life and without it, we’d be dead.”

Your work often focuses on landscapes, nature and animals – are these particular interests of yours, or are you documenting the world around you?

If you photograph what you love it will come through in the photos and make them stronger. Growing up close to nature in rural Sweden, landscapes has naturally come to be something I can rely on in my photographs. I think nature is one of the most important and beautiful things in life and without it, we’d be dead. Can’t say that’s why I shoot nature, but I think it’s worth remembering. I’ve spent so much time in cities and found myself longing for the woods, the quietness and the streaming rivers. For me everything that’s untouched by humans or abandoned since long makes an interesting subject. When it comes to animals, I’ve always been a huge animal lover and since I like to be close to them it comes natural to shoot. They make good models because they are unaware of the camera and you never know what to expect from the shoot.

Do you have a favourite subject to shoot?

Anything that stands out from the rest and makes me react. It can be an interesting person, a creature in the dark night, a lonely cottage on a misty field or just something that is completely misplaced. I like to shoot destruction and things which over time has collapsed, like buildings or old barns. I also like to shoot fire or things that makes unique or hypnotising patterns.

Your landscapes are always stunning and really interesting – what’s your approach when taking them?

Mostly I just walk or drive around and when I see a good scenery I take a picture. I don’t spend too much time planning or thinking about what to shoot, because when I do, the result feels forced. I shoot things I stumble upon, and that’s also what draws me to photography – the unknown and the adventures. You never know what’s around the corner, it’s variable and exciting and it makes days on earth a little more imaginative than just everyday life.

What do you want to explore with your photos?

The world I guess. Maybe myself in some sense. I like to push myself to limits and I’m always on the hunt for that “perfect photograph” or project. So far I have not accomplished that so I keep going. I’m a perfectionist to an almost unhealthy extent.

How much of your work is planned and set up, and how much is spontaneous and candid?

It’s hard to plan my photographs. I’m a little too restless as well, spending hours on a single shoot. I like to take a few quick shots and continue on. I’d love to set up a planned shoot sometime but I just can’t make myself do it so at least for now, I rely on the spontaneous.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been working on a project shooting in north of Sweden for a while, and will probably shoot more this summer. I recently spent some time in Lapland, the very north of Sweden, photographing mountains and reindeer. I’d love to buy a camper to live in and just drive around to shoot.

What’s your dream project?

I don’t have a specific project in mind but I would like to spend some time to shoot either a place for a longer time or a trip of some kind. I’d love to drive across the States to shoot in the rural or whatever I come across. I guess it’s been a dream for a while because of all the american movies I watched growing up; Badlands, True Romance, Wild At Heart.. I’m sure I’m romanticising but I need to find out for myself. It might sound cliché but you should never give up on your dreams.