Wet portraits and feminism as water

Greta Marìa Ásgeirsdóttir

PHOTO  .  April 2nd, 2019

To set up the atmosphere: we are in cosy Berlin bar with two glasses of wine, one white, one red, a few candles and a talented photographer…

Hi Greta, how would you introduce yourself?

I’m 25 years old, originally from Iceland, but I grew up mostly in Sweden. I am a photographer, a musician as well, based in Berlin. I’ve been here for 5 years and don’t intend on moving away, I’m probably gonna be based here for a while.

How did you start?

I bought my first camera when I was 12, and took photos of leaves on the ground… 

Haha, and your shoes?

Oh yeah, I have so many photos of my shoes!

And then, since you can choose specific programs you want to study in High School in Sweden, I picked “media”, and “photography”.
Then I started to work with photography. At the local newspaper they had a section for younger people for the Saturday’s edition. We sometimes got to choose someone interesting to portrait. My colleague took care of the interview, I took the photos, and it got published in the newspaper.

I never thought about being a photographer. It was my dad who suggested it, when I finished high school. I wanted to move abroad but I did not know what to study, and he knew that I liked Berlin, but I was looking at literature studies etc, and he said “why don’t you do photography? It’s what you’re doing right now!”.

What’s in your mind when you’re behind the camera? 

I mostly think about the framing and how the light falls on whichever subject I am photographing. I always keep an eye on the corners on the frame… I mainly shoot portrait so I focus on placing the subject. I don’t know, I kind of blank out, I obviously think about what I am shooting but that’s all.

You seem to be more into spontaneous photography than organized shooting, am I right ?

I tried to do more shootings where I plan everything but I never end up with that result; I think it also should be fun, and I really like having a bit of freedom without a very clear idea beforehand, instead of thinking “I have to make it perfect”.

I used to be even less organized but I realized there’s another person involved, if I don’t take the lead it can get uncomfortable for them. So now at least I choose the spot, and sometimes give some indication about which colors to wear…

What is your relationship with your models?

Most of the time it’s people I know, friends or strangers who became friends afterwards. These are people I often met at parties, that I kind of knew but never really talked to.
I also photograph my family a lot. That’s kind of how I started, so I continuously do that.

Why are they mostly women?

Good question! I don’t really have a good answer… Someone once asked me, when I had an exhibition, if the portraits were maybe more like self-portraits. I don’t know… but there could be something in that. I definitely identify a lot more with female subjects. The only guys I actually shoot are my family members.

Do you have a few favorite models? What are the characteristics that make a good model for you?

There are some people I have been photographing for a couple of years, like my sister: when I see her, we take some photos. Or some friends who used to live here and when they come back to visit we always do a small photo shoot. 

…I don’t know, but at the same time it’s not like I ask everyone. Basically it’s just about something I find beautiful, even some small characteristic, that would make me think “this is beautiful, I want to look at it longer [through photography]”.

Your pictures have something very special… I would be interested in how you would describe your style yourself?

It’s pretty simple, in a way that they aren’t clean studio pictures, and because I usually work with plain backgrounds, or very subtle looks. I would probably say, as I have been told this too many times now, that there is something melancholic around them.

What camera are you using? Do you edit your pictures?

I mainly shoot digital and had the same camera since 2011 up until last year, when I got a Nikon D7100. I don’t do much editing, just maybe adjusting the light a little, and I often desaturate the colors if I think they are too bright. I like it a bit grey.

What would be your dream project? 

I would photograph every single person that inspires me, just do series of portraits of really cool people. I kind of already have one that is on-going, and it’s my favorite I have done so far.

It’s a series called “Wet“. I met so many inspiring people through it. To actually take a photo of someone who tells their story and getting to know them is pretty grand.

Wet is about feminism, but using water as a metaphor. I ask the participants a question, “what is feminism for you ?”, and include the answer with the picture, but replace the word feminism with water in the whole project. So it’s like “water for me is this…”.

Emilia Palmén: “I think water is extremely hard to put into words, even though it’s not that complicated. But to not make it a marathon answer: it’s my right to be heard and respected, and it’s my obligation to listen to and respect others.”

Where does this idea of water come from?

I wanted to do a project about feminism, but I wanted something more to be in it. I was actually at home, thinking about how to do that, while drinking a glass of water, and I said to my flatmate “why not just photograph water?”. So there the idea kind of grew. In the portraits, there is always water, in some kind of form. A glass of water, a splash, or snow, or a reflection…

Are they random people or did you choose because of what they do?

Some of them because of what they do, and the others because they were recommended to me, because they were interesting.

I ask them what they do before, and then during the shoot, we talk about feminism, about what they do, and what they don’t do.
After the shoot they send me their answer to the question “what is feminism for you”, and that is my favorite part: reading their answers. It gives me this extra boost.

It is a project that I do in collaboration with the Berlin Feminist Film Week. I have been volunteering and taking photos for them since 2015, so I know the founder, Karin Fornander, and I talked with her once about making a project together, about feminism. So “Wet” started in 2016, and I’ve exhibited it annually along with the Berlin Feminist Film Week. I have done it twice so far, the first year we did a book and the second a magazine, designed by Studio Skulptur.

So, returning to your question, my dream project would be to do this, but just much bigger, with more people. Last year I had one of my friends writing the introduction text, and others doing the design… but I also want to have more photographers, more illustrators, to make it more of a collaborative project. But I haven’t figured out why and how exactly, there has to be something that justifies that.

Well… Feminism is also about sorority, helping each other out, so it makes sense not to want to do this alone.

True! That’s a good reason haha.
It’s also fun just doing stuff with other people, it blooms in a different way.

Do you have an idea of how do you want to grow as a photographer? I mean, towards which direction do you want to go?

For now, I want to continue focusing on portraits. I’d love to photograph people for something, like a magazine. I have been doing something similar this past year, and it is nice doing something not for an exhibition or a book. I enjoy taking the photos, and see them being used not long after for promotion, or other publication. It’s nice to see it live.

You’re also making music, do you connect it with photography at all?

I’d probably describe it the same way as my pictures : simple and melancholic – haha. They’re both such an essential part of me, I could not do without one or the other.
Maybe music in a way is something more personal, because I do it on my own, and I write the lyrics, they are usually pretty personal.

To finish, do you have any artist or project that inspires you, and that you would like to tell us about?

I discovered Helen Van Meene at an art fair in Berlin maybe a year and a half ago or so. I don’t always buy photography books, although I wish I owned more, but couldn’t leave without purchasing her book ”The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits”. Beautiful portraits, a rather nice gem.

Thank you Greta!

Greta Marìa Ásgeirsdóttir is a photographer based in Berlin. You can follow her work on her website and her instagram.