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Through the lens of Sølve Sundsbø

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Strong colors and a sense of motion are at the heart of Sundsbø’s work. Here model Karen Elson is smoking hot.

By Jessica Michault

One of the fashion world’s most innovative and original photographers working today is without a doubt Sølve Sundsbø. His highly imaginative and emotion-filled images are an expertly balanced mélange of real-world effects and post-production magic. Each image tells a fantastical fashion story where the clothing almost comes to life. Popping off the pages of glossy magazines like Italian Vogue and i-D.

Sølve Sundsbø.

The Norwegian native recently was on the jury of the 30th International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, in the south of France. A festival that helped launch Sundsbø’s career back in 1999 when he took the top prize in the photography category. Sundsbø gave a master class on photography during the weekend-long festival and talked at length about how he brings his distinctive images to life.

“You know I am a very frustrated man. Because I am not really a writer, I can’t draw, but I finally turned to photography. Where I can start with reality and then manipulate it,” said Sundsbø.

Fashion photography was not a self-evident career path for the photographer, who grew up on a farm. However, his passion for self-expression through images almost forced him into the industry. “If you are a wedding photographer, you are kind of stuck doing weddings, and if you are a car photographer, you are kind of stuck with cars,” explained Sundsbø, “but fashion photography opens you up to opportunities to create images that you love to create.”

In 1994 Sundsbø moved to London to take a course in photography at the London College of Printing as a way to get a visa to live and work in the United Kingdom. Shortly thereafter he was fortunate enough to become a photography assistant to the acclaimed avant-garde image-maker Nick Knight. “He really encouraged my sense of curiosity,” said Sundsbø. “There are so many rules that are imposed on people, and restrictions on themselves, and people are scared, and fear things. That is the enemy on any creative process.”

Sundsbø spent four intensely creative years alongside Knight. During that time he built up his elaborate visual aesthetic where smoke, x-rays, manipulated lighting and, in particular, a deep-seated fascination with water have played key roles in his work, along with a healthy dose of digital alterations. Now brands like Alexander McQueen (for which he shot the stunning image in the Savage Beauty exhibition catalogue) Chanel, Gucci, Hermès and H&M turn to the photographer to capture their advertising campaigns. He has also branched out into fashion films, finally giving real movement to his often-undulating fashion imagery. Looking at the young photographers competing at the Hyères festival, Sundsbø was particularly hopeful for the future of fashion photography.

“What I love about the younger generation of photographers I am seeing today is that they don’t really seem to care about all the rules of the past,” he said. “It’s not about being cool, it’s not about posing. It’s about creating something that talks to someone. You need to throw away any fear and do what you want.”

 

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