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When I first came across Daria Endresen's work, I was captivated. Dark, moody, and other-worldly.
Wounds, piercings and body mortification, Photoshopped and layered with textures. It was photography, but not as I knew it.
At that time all her pictures were based on self portraits which, as a photographer, you realise also adds a whole new layer of difficulty in creating them.
For some people, photography begins and ends in the camera, although since its inception, most photographers have edited their images - from physically painting on the glass or negatives to manipulating exposures in the darkroom - but usually with the emphasis on it not looking like it was edited.
But for Daria, photography was clearly just one step along the way to creating fantastical images - scenes that didn't try to echo reality, but tapped into the unsettling depths of our subconscious.
I was hooked.
And now I'm delighted Daria has agreed to take part in my photographer interview series, Chasing Shadows.
Kim: Thank you so much for taking part in these interviews, Daria. My first question has to be... did you start out photographing kittens and pretty flowers and get drawn into the darker side, or has your photography always explored the more disturbing aspects of the human psyche?
Daria: I started with landscapes - when living in Norway that’s the most natural thing to do. But I have been drawn to the darker side of things as long as I remember.
As my favourite singer Chelsea Wolfe’s album title goes - "Pain is Beauty".
Kim: I can understand beginning with landscapes - especially living in the dramatic scenery of Norway. So what was the first image where you decided to feature yourself rather than the landscape and what were your thoughts about it?
If I am not mistaken, the first self-portrait was the one called "Pagan poetry".
I was very much into Bjork back then and I listened to her “Vespertine” album non-stop. The video for "Pagan poetry" is quite explicit, showing Bjork in an in-body-pierced wedding dress and in the end there is a shot of corset piercing.
I was so inspired by it, and by the song as well, that I got an idea to make my own version of it. It showed me from the back, so I didn’t really feel exposed, but I have to confess it was quite frightening to release it in public.
I did a remake of this image later on - and I like the concept up to this day.
Kim: I see from your opening portrait you have your nose and your lip pierced. Have you gone as far as the skin piercing in the Pagan Poetry photos, or other body modifications, or has that exploration been limited to Photoshop?
Daria: I do have only my lip pierced - the ring in the nose on the picture with the raven is a fake one.
I guess I like the general concept of piercing but I am not sure I'd want to have more of those on me - feeling a tad too old for that :)
Kim: Here's a quick camera question: what camera and lens(es) do you use most often, or are your favourite, and why?
Daria: I shoot with Canon EOS 5dm2 and 50 mm 1.4 + 80 mm 1.8
I am definitely not one of those fierce Canon vs Nikon warriors, it just happened historically that my first camera was Canon EOS 20d and I stuck to Canon since then.
Kim: I know what you mean - I've never seen the point in the rivalry between brand ownership. These days the technology in pretty much all cameras is amazing. Of course the biggest expense with DSLRs is the lenses, so once you buy into a system, you generally have to stick with it.
Daria: I don’t have a huge array of lenses - 50 mm is my preferred one, it’s sharp and fast and works great for the type of photography that I do. I like to use 80 mm for the outside shoots and nice DOF, also for portraits.
Kim: Are you a full time photographer?
Daria: No, photography has never been my job. I currently work part-time as a bartender, have been doing this for several years now and feeling pretty comfortable with it.
Kim: Is your ambition to become a professional photographer and derive your main income from it?
Daria: No, I don’t thrive under pressure or instability, and in my eyes being a freelance entices exactly that. I am happy to have a boring job on the side and keep my art as a passionate hobby.
But I suppose it would be nice to make a living from selling art prints. It was my goal before but lately I’ve come to the conclusion that only a few people can achieve that, and most likely I won’t be one of them, so it’s time to move on to something else.
Kim: As you were growing and developing your photography, was there are particular image where you felt you crossed a line and made a significant move forward - in your sense of what you were able to create with the camera?
Daria: I don’t think I can single out one - can’t say that there’s been a significant step forward at any time of my artistic development - instead it went slowly and steady.
Kim: What about an image which you feel propelled you into a much wider audience and recognition?
Daria: I think it was "Darkwood" - it is by far my most popular most bought work, it beat all the records on social platforms and it has also opened a new chapter in my artistic direction.
Kim: There's no doubt it's an amazing image, with a real sense of tapping into dark mythology. But what counts as a successful image to you? Is it Facebook likes, sales of prints, or something else?
Daria: A successful image is the one that I enjoy throughout time. I stop liking most of my work and feel ashamed of some images in particular. Some of them are still my favourites though - and these I consider successful.
It’s also nice to receive public appreciation but then very often my opinion and the opinion of my followers don’t coincide.
Kim: I think the difference between how we view our work and how others do is an age old problem for photographers. Can you give me an example of one of your images where your opinion differed from the public reaction?
Daria: One of my latest images called "The Rite" got some controversial opinions - I personally like it quite a lot, it turned exactly how I imagined and planned, and I think I managed to capture the atmosphere I was after. A lot of people were appalled at the concept, blaming me for promoting violence and mistreatment of women - something that I obviously didn’t have in mind in the slightest.
Another recurring topic is anorexia - every time my models show protruding ribs, there is always someone advising them to eat a sandwich and bashing me for corrupting young minds and giving awful example of how a woman should look like.
When I released my black and white series "Nowena", I received a lot of negative remarks, which were directed towards model’s thinness and my supposedly open glorification of it. I get immensely annoyed when I hear things like this, and I am tired of explaining that none of my models are anorexic, it’s not anorexia I am trying to push forward, and it’s incredibly rude to discuss the model’s appearance in public.
Kim: The first images I saw of yours were pretty much all based on self portraits. Many of them are nude or semi-nude, which suggests a strong body-confidence, but there is often body mortification and mutilation happening too. How complex is your relationship with your own body?
Daria: It’s interesting that you mention confidence - I am probably the most insecure person out there. And my relationship with my body has always been complicated. I was plump as a child and ever since I hit puberty, I fought a constant battle with my curves - I loved food and I yearned to be thin at the same time - that is an awful combination. This battle is still ongoing and I still haven’t learnt to properly love and accept myself.
My images are a perfected version of me - and they are both pleasant and painful to look at.
Regarding nudity, I somehow never perceived myself as naked - it was always some sort of an abstract distant feeling, that the model is me and yet it is not me at all.
I stopped shooting self-portraits a couple years ago and I don’t think I will be coming back to it anytime soon.
Kim: In my previous interview with King Douglas, the notion of the influence of Religion came up. Some of your work seems to have religious overtones, and some has more of a mythological feel to it. In what way does the metaphysical influence in your work?
Daria: I used to be largely inspired by the Old Flemish Masters, Hans Memling in particular - one of my favourite books is the detailed analysis of his “Last Judgement”. So I wouldn’t say it’s religion per se but rather one of the visual sides of it.
My latest series is focused on the mysticism of a ritual, particularly one of sacrifice - and here I find my inspiration in Scandinavian mythology - going back to my roots.
Kim: How strong is the relationship between the dark mood of your images and your outlook on life? For example, would you say you are melancholic by nature, or is the creation of your images cathartic?
Daria: I think it is very strong. I am probably going to sound overly goth here but I have been melancholic since I was a child (well, at least that’s what my mother tells me). I am not sure if there is a specific reason for it or if I was just "born this way".
Sometimes I hit especially difficult states but I’ve learned to manage and live with them and in some cases even overcome them. I wouldn’t call myself depressed (it’s not wise to drop this word lightly) but I can’t claim that I am a perfectly happy person.
Kim: How does your relationship with Nihil affect your (and his) work? I'm not sure how long the two of you have been together, but I see he also creates dark, complex and disturbing imagery - often using you as a model. Did you develop your work together, or did you create it separately and then discover each other later on?
Daria: We have been together for over 5 years now :)
And I think our relationship has been very rewarding - first and foremost, we perfectly understand and are able to support each other when artistic crisis strikes, and that is really important. We also exchange techniques and new finds - very often we work in two different ways, so it’s very enriching and helpful to share.
As for the influence, he had his own developed style before he met me - and I think maybe that’s why our collaborations have been successful : our universes intertwine in many ways.
Kim: How much planning goes into your photos beforehand?
Daria: There is a lot of planning involved. I have to scout for the location, make the props, wait for the suitable weather and think carefully about the poses - very often my models work in awfully uncomfortable conditions, so I have to be quick and don’t really have time to improvise.
Preparation for Distant Shore
Kim: Do you do rough sketches?
Daria: I do sketches beforehand - they look pretty horrid but it helps to visualise the final result and build up the composition.
Kim: How much variation is there between the original concept/sketch and the final image?
Daria: Depends. Some ideas just don’t work and then I have either to abandon them completely or to try something else on the spot. Other times it can be some small adjustments, but all in all I’d say the original idea and the final result are quite close.
Kim: As well as the adjustments done to bodies in Photoshop, many of your images are layered with different textures. Do you have any favourite editing techniques?
Daria: I don’t have specific techniques that I favour in particular. But from the whole editing process I adore the tedious retouch - removing all imperfections and making my characters flawless. I can spend hours fixing the skin for example! After that I think most of my tricks are pretty standard - healing and cloning brushes, frequency separation etc.
Kim: I think it was Leonardo da Vinci who said, "art is never finished, only abandoned". When you are editing, how do you know when it's finished?
Daria: When I just can’t stand looking at it anymore *laughing*
I am a perfectionist and I am almost never satisfied with final results, but at some point you simply realize that it’s done and there is nothing else you can do - you basically can’t go any further.
On rare occasions I actually like what I see, and then I feel like I can release it in public.
Kim: I'm guessing you are probably looking more at stories, film and art than other photographers, but what would you say most influences your ideas and style?
Daria: It’s actually a wild mix, mostly visual one. Lately I’ve been very attentive to movies - sometimes I may hate the movie, the story and the characters, but I love the visual part of it - how it’s shot, the compositions and tones - and it can be very inspiring!
If you take my earlier works, I looked up to Frida Kahlo and Karina Marandjian. Right now I am mostly after the general ambiance - a good example would be "Valhalla Rising", "Antichrist" or "The Witch".
Trailer for Valhalla Rising
Kim: Have you ever had to worry about people stealing your work, or passing it off as their own?
Daria: No, not really. I mean as soon as you publish your work online, it’s practically inevitable - someone will repost it without giving credits or will attempt to print it. And if you have the wide audience, you can’t really control that. I don’t get mad when it happens and I accidentally find out - I just accept it as a given.
Kim: Still, it must be frustrating. Do you ever try and do something about it?
Daria: Asking the people to give me credit or take it down - sometimes it works :)
Kim: It seems as though you are constantly striving to capture a particular mood or feeling. What drives you? What are you chasing?
Daria: Erhm, totally stuck here :D
Kim: I guess what I'm looking for here is insights into why you are drawn to creating images in the style that you do. Some people prefer to capture gritty realism, or wild landscapes, or lines in architecture, or even abstract shapes and colours. Some people are seeking adoration, while others feel driven to create as though it is outside their control, and for some it is cathartic - a way of trying to heal deep wounds. There are so many different reasons photographers (indeed any artists) keep at their work, even though it takes up a lot of their time, often for very little financial reward.
Daria: I think in the beginning it was more of attention seeking. I remember feeling stressed because I told myself I have to release an image per week, to keep the interest, otherwise I will be forgotten.
After certain events in my life, a couple of years later, it became much more deep and personal - I shared my stories, and it definitely was some sort of therapy for me - most of my self-portraits represent to me exactly that.
When my life got stable again, I realized I don’t have that much to say anymore because I am calm and happy, hence I don’t need the therapy. I was stuck for over a year in an artistic limbo until inspiration got back to me, and this time it was more remote and abstract, not as personal. Perhaps because of that I started working with other models - and thus my Scandinavian-inspired ritual series was born. That I guess is more of a study, it’s still sharing but it’s not personal anymore.
I think others’ feedback continues to play an important part in my artistic life - insecure as I am, I need a constant confirmation of my worth.
And there is definitely some universal, somewhat subconscious, need to create in general - I can’t not, and I’m having hard times imagining myself not taking pictures at all, I am quite sure this is something that will always stay with me.
Kim: I appreciate the honesty of your response and can identify with much of what you say. What direction do you see your photography moving in next?
Daria: I honestly don’t know.
At this point I feel that I have had enough exhibitions and after my two upcoming solo shows this June in Belgium and Finland I plan to take a long break. I will definitely continue working but perhaps this time it will be more private, for myself, rather than for exposing it.
My focus has been shifted to other projects, namely my own jewelry brand, and I guess for now I will shoot mostly in context with it.
Kim: This sounds like an interesting development - tell me more about your jewellery - what drew you to the idea of creating it?
Daria: Thrjar (from Icelandic pl. f. of “three”) is my side project that was born in November 2015. It’s my own jewelry line, made of oxidized silver and heavily inspired by runes and nature. I think I wanted to try something more tangible than moving around pixels, and I felt greatly motivated by the idea of designing my own adornments.
The site www.thrjar.com was officially launched a few weeks ago and I am overwhelmed by the positive response I got so far - I suppose people can see that it was made with love and inspiration.
Kim: Do you see connection between your style of jewellery and your style of photography?
Daria: There is definitely a link between my images and visual representation of the brand - and that was actually the point : I didn’t want to drop photography for good and instead planned to intertwine the two and work on them simultaneously.
You can follow all the updates on my instagram account - https://www.instagram.com/thrjar.jewelry/
Kim: Norway is definitely on my list of must-visit places - do you have any plans to visit Scotland?
Daria: Oh yes, absolutely! It’s pretty much in my top 3 to-visit countries, together with Iceland and Japan - I sincerely hope I will have the opportunity to do it sometime soon :)
Kim: If you make it over here, let me know so I can take you to one of the best places for hot chocolate in the area. Many thanks for your time and sharing your insights into your amazing photography. I wish you every success with your exhibitions and jewellery.
Daria: Ah, I will never say no to chocolate in any form! Thank you very much for having me here and for this interesting dialogue - its been a real pleasure. I hope our paths will cross either on Scottish or Norwegian soil :)
If this has whetted your appetite for more of Daria's work, then you can discover much more on her website and social media sites here:
Meanwhile, please feel free to leave a comment! And be sure to check out the previous interviews I've done in this Chasing Shadows series:
King Douglas - an extraordinarily skilled and talented photographer who was creating really cool special effects in-camera long before the days of Photoshop and Digital SLRs.
Nicolas Marino - he's been travelling the world on his bicycle - over 80 countries and counting - and has the most amazing ability to capture the "other" as "not-other"
Bill Gekas - who has achieved global recognition for his captivating photos of his daughter, Athena, dressed in a variety of outfits where images owe more to classical paintings than they do to photographs