Meet the team: Sigrid Bjorbekkmo
Hailing from the Norwegian archipelago of Vesterålen, the Issue Two photographer brilliantly captures people and place
When piecing together our ‘International Development’ feature in Issue Two, we we’re dealing with an embarrassment of riches. Our Photo Editor Hollie had found an incredible selection of image makers from around the world, including the magnificent Luke Evans who we caught up with a couple of months ago.
Selecting a lead image for a piece is always a tough call but it was one of Sigrid Bjorbekkmo’s tender portraits that ticked all the boxes. When talking to Sigrid about her photography this week, I came to realise that the image we used is symbolic of her own journey so far. As the subject gazes into the distance, Sigrid has in the last decade expanded her horizons, moving to a different country before settling closer to home in Oslo.
What’s really interesting is that her relationship with photography started when she left her hometown. Having grown up surrounded by incredible natural beauty, it was a fresh perspective that inspired her to start documenting people and their habitats.
At the tender age of 25, Sigrid already has an incredibly refined style and an amazing portfolio. I always enjoy finding out more about our contributors and hope that sharing their stories and more of their work with you is of value to you too.
You moved to Italy aged sixteen and credit that part of your life with being the point at which you got interested in photography. What can you tell us about that transition and how photography came to be part of it?
Being from a small town in Norway, my move to Italy was a pretty big change for me. I had to adjust to a different culture, learn a new language from scratch and try to adapt to a more Italian way of living. I stayed with a host family that wanted me to get to know the culture fast, so they used to take me to Milan on the weekends to see old historical buildings, operas, art shows and exhibitions.
While some parts of it, like that time we went to see a four hour long italian opera, wasn’t really my thing, other parts came to have a big impact on me. My most vivid memory of that time is when they took me to this amazing Elliot Erwitt exhibition that really opened my eyes to the world of photography. I had never seen anything like it. Around that same time I discovered Flickr and could spend hours looking at images. Some of the photographers I found there are still amongst my favourite ones.
A sense of “place” is a recurring factor in a number of your projects, including “Heime/Hjemme”. Does this interest stem at all from your experiences growing up in a small town and moving away from home?
I think it has a lot to do with that. The town I grew up in is in a pretty remote area of northern Norway known for its beautiful nature. It is on an island with these tall majestic mountains and vast landscapes, but I didn’t really notice it at all before after I had moved away. I was too busy dreaming about living in a bigger city, and completly sure that I would never ever move back.
I am still not feeling the need to move back there, but my attitude towards it has changed a lot over the past years which became the start of my project Heime/Hjemme. I wanted to know how other people felt about it, and how much the place they grew up still meant to them. I find it really interesting how we feel connected to places, but also how time can dramatically changes ones feeling toward it. I am a very nostalgic person so I keep looking back whenever I am thinking about new projects.
What’s your usual creative process when starting a new self-initiated project? Do you always have a concept first or can a few photographs gain momentum and become the start of something bigger?
I would say both really, I don’t think I have one creative process that I follow, it changes from project to project. The project about my homeplace was something I had thought about for a long time but suddenly sat down and decided that I wanted to make a series about. Other times I shoot some images and get a feeling that it has potential to become a part of a bigger project.
Your portraiture always has a feeling of serenity about it. How much of a skill is it to create the correct atmosphere for those kinds of images?
I guess the most challenging part is to make people feel comfortable around you. I find that very few people manage to relax completely while getting their picture taken. I usually spend some time talking to the sitters to make them feel more relaxed and to get an impression of who they are. I guess my personality plays a role in it a s well. I tend to be a very calm and quiet person so maybe that rubs off on the people I photograph.
What draws you (creatively speaking) to these intimate portraits?
What I really like about photography is photographing people and making portraits. I am drawn to simplicity and images that have a timeless feel to them. I always strive to create a feeling of authenticity in my images, which I guess can translate into intimacy. My photographic approach is also very simple. I always use natural light and bring only the gear that I need with me. I tend to work on my own or in a small team, which also helps in making the setting more laidback and intimate.
Since graduating, you’ve been working freelance but still work part-time here and there to keep on top of bills. What have you learned about the world of freelance work thus far?
I have learned that you have to have a lot of patience and perseverance to stick with it. For most people it takes time to get used to the passage from school to working life, and of course to create a network and build a strong portfolio. A lot of the time the projects I really want to do are not the ones I end up getting paid for, which I think is a very challenging factor in this business. What I really like about working freelance is that every day is different, and that you get to meet interesting people and learn new things. It has been an emotional rollercoaster so far, but I feel that I am starting to get the hang of it. At least it is not a boring life.
Do you tend to attract commissions locally or internationally?
Most of the commissions I have done so far has been in Oslo where I live. There is a lot of creative things happening here so I feel it is a good place to start. On the other hand Oslo is not really a big city, so I always like to read about what’s happening internationally. I guess my dream would be to use Oslo as a base and travel the world shooting assignments and projects.
What are you favourite type of commissions to work and why?
Shooting portraits. Recently I have been working on assignments for a Norwegian magazine where I get to shoot portraits of all kinds of creative people. They give me short briefs so I have a lot of freedom to shoot the images the way I want it. The people I work for are really talented and ambitious, which I find very inspiring. I also wouldn’t mind shooting travel assignments.
If you had any advice for aspiring photographers who are currently studying, what would it be?
I think having patience is key, it usually takes time to get where you want. Especially when you have just graduated and need to find out what you want to do and how you want to work. Also work on self initiated projects and schedule your own shoots to build a strong portfolio. And if you can, try not to compare yourself to everyone else.
Are you working on any forthcoming projects that you can tell us a little bit about?
In the next few weeks I’m shooting some portraits for a magazine about creativity, A New Type of Imprint. I also recently came back from an artist residency in Poland so I need to work my way through and edit lots of images from my stay there.
For more, head on over to Sigrid’s website where you can delve deeper into her commissions and personal projects.