Q+A with Irina Boersma, the Photographer Capturing the Environments of Our Dreams
Irina Boersma is a product and interior photographer based in Copenhagen. While working on projects internationally, she captures the places and brands at the core of our aesthetic desires in a delicate and harmonious manner.
We recently took the time to ask her some questions to learn more about how she succeeds in creating the perfect scenography for each pictures; the one you wish you could spend your Sundays in.
EL: Can you tell us a little bit more about how you started as a photographer? When did you realize you wanted to pursue this path in your life?
IB: When I was studying at university, I was studying Film and Media, and though I loved the storytelling through audiovisual media, I wasn’t satisfied with the creative process of filmmaking. I found it too slow and heavy, and most of my energy ended up in managing and organizing details of film production, which in the end took space from my creative contribution to the process.
I changed course to photography, which had been present in my life on a hobby basis already, and went to an art photography school. At this point, it was quite clear to me that I wanted to work with photography as my primary medium. I had always been very creative as a child, painting and drawing a lot, and the artistic expression was very natural to me. At the Art Photography school, we learned to find our own visual language and photographic voice, working with exhibitions and book projects. Afterward, I assisted one of Denmark's prominent art photographers Nicolai Howalt, which gave me a good insight into the working life of an art photographer. I admired and loved his work but wanted to have an everyday life with more photographing and less gallery networking and fundraising for art projects. After all, what I loved to do was really the act of photographing.
So how could I have a working life shooting more images I thought… That would be to do more commercial photography work next to my art projects. And to become a better commercial photographer, I started assisting one of the best photographers in that field, Peter Krasilnikoff. This began an almost seven-year-long work relationship, first as his full-time assistant, then he hired me as a photographer to take on some of the clients and the last two years we have been business partners in the studio we shared. Now he has retired from the commercial work, and I am continuing the work with our old clients and a lot of new ones on my own.
Peter taught me a lot of technical knowledge about photography, how to give shape to objects with light, and also a lot of business knowledge on how to approach commercial clients and organize large-scale photoshoots with a lot of practical details. And throughout those years I have been behind the camera every day, which is what I wanted.
Now that I have worked with commercial projects for years, I am finding myself returning to the more artistic expression in photography. It is like closing a circle, really, combining the two worlds I have been trained in - commercial photography and art photography.
EL: Were you always more attracted by shooting spaces and objects rather than portraits? Why did you decide to take this direction?
IB: Throughout the many years of working with photography, I have been around a lot of different genres of the medium. I have worked with food photography, travel reportage, wedding photography, interior, and portraits. I have always liked portrait photography because of the connection you get with the subject in front of the camera, and the empathic process and psychological challenge to get the right emotional state out in the image. So this type of work has been present along the way. I have chosen not to focus on it because I prefer the creative process of creating a universe and atmosphere around objects. You start from scratch and build up a world around the story you want to tell, and for me, that is very gratifying and a great creative outlet.
I do shoot portraits sometimes, but I never show them anymore. Now I think about it, it is a different way to use the medium - instead of catching a moment unfolding naturally before your lens, I am creating the scene and atmosphere unfolding before the lens. It is still a vivid process and often with several other creatives involved, like stylists, art directors, etc. so the process is not 100 percent predictable, and never gets boring to me.
“Now I think about it, it is a different way to use the medium - instead of catching a moment unfolding naturally before your lens, I am creating the scene and atmosphere unfolding before the lens.”
— Irina Boersma
EL: There is a precise aesthetic direction surrounding your body of work. Is harmony something that is important to you? Why is that so?
IB: This is an excellent question, because I do believe visual harmony is essential, but I don’t think about it consciously all the time when I work. It happens intuitively somehow. I look at the image and arrange things in a way that they feel harmonious and leave nothing to disturb or distract the eye from the story I am telling.
I think it must be because I want to convey an emotion in the spectator when they look at the image, and I don’t wish distracting elements to lead them away from the atmosphere and feeling I am creating. It is not just a space with some pretty things put in there, I want the image to convey some kind of atmosphere or emotion, even if it is very subtle. It can also be so subtle that the spectator doesn’t notice that he is being told a story, there is just a feeling of a beautiful scene.
“It can even be so subtle that the spectator doesn’t notice that he is being told a story, there is just a feeling of a beautiful scene.”
— Irina Boersma
EL: Do you work differently when you are shooting personal and commercial work? How do you manage to bring that artistic touch to your commercial projects?
IB: The commercial work has a specific framework set up by the needs of the clients, whereas the artistic or editorial projects are freer. So the process changes a bit, but my approach to every kind of project is the same, very serious and professional and I’m always trying to push the situation to the best outcome possible. What I try to do with the commercial work is to push clients bit by bit to become braver and expand or move their framework to include some artistic expression. It has to be done respectfully because after all the images need to push their business, create income, and therefore also finance my work. I also think it is about finding the right clients that see some value in adding a little extra feeling into the marketing material they need to produce.
EL: What role do you think images play in the lifestyle industry?
IB: Today images have become such an integrated part of our life and perception of ourselves and the world we live in. Obviously for a lifestyle industry images are crucial to presenting a universe surrounding their products. It is a straightforward way to connect to the consumer especially because we all spend so much time every day looking at images on Instagram and other media.
Personally, I think the overconsumption of images today is working a bit against the creatives in my field, in the sense that people don’t take the time to observe and feel the work we are presenting. You look for two seconds in your Instagram feed, think “oh that’s beautiful,” put a like and on to the next images. The attention to the image, and therefore also the emotional response to it lasts for a very short period.
As a photographer, I will probably embrace the analog ways of showing images again at some point in my career. This could be exhibiting printed images, having editorial projects in biannual magazines and making book projects. Showing pictures to an audience that takes the time to actually look at them! This would lead me back to the starting point of my photographic career, art photography, and the circle has been completed once again. I’m not impatient to get there though, right now I love where I am and embrace all the challenges that come my way.
EL: What are your upcoming projects for 2019? What would you like to accomplish this year?
IB: For me, this year is really about integrating the artistic expression into the commercial work and having good working relations in both the commercial and editorial photography field. I will release several great editorial series that I am working on and still continue to work with my current and hopefully some new commercial clients.
This already has been my focus for a while, and I will continue working in this direction. Expanding my international network is also very important to me this year, as it gives me a lot of new inputs and inspirations for my work. I want my photographic work to develop continuously, so to expand my visual horizons I want to see some other colors and ways of doing things. That feeds the creative brain with inputs for new photographic projects in the future.
All images by Irina Boersma