Daniel Stjerne is a Danish fashion photographer specialised in shooting analogue film photography. His personal style is warm, immersive and perfectionist to its core, and his clientele ranges from high-end magazines to prominent fashion brands. Furthermore, Daniel Stjerne has shot campaigns for Les Deux since Spring 14.
This interview explores the many facets of being a self-employed artist; from finding inspiration, choosing a medium, and knowing who to work with.
What sparked your interest in photography?
My interest in photography started whilst traveling after high school. I developed an interest through wanting to capture my experiences and the places I went. After quickly realizing that studying economics and language at Copenhagen Business School was not for me, photography became my next thing. I enrolled myself at the Danish School of photography and acquired a job as an assistant for Danish fashion photographer; Dennis Stenild. Without thinking much about it, fashion photography became my main field of interest. I cannot really describe why, but that is the thing about photography, or any passion job, I guess. Whatever captures you, captures you. It is not a choice.
How does one develop a personal style?
One's personal style in photography is an abstract thing. It is not a choice, but simply happens. When I see an editorial in a magazine, or a post on Instagram, I can often tell from a single image who the photographer is. It just shines through. I do not think many photographers are able to put down in words, what their unique feature is. In the beginning, it is all about finding inspiration; from other people’s work, your surroundings and art in general. Then there is learning about colours and light. And after that, it is hard work. Your own personal style will develop all by itself as you go.
One of the things that makes your work interesting, is that you shoot analogue. Why have you chosen to do so?
When I started out, the digital age of photography was well established. I have never assisted a photographer who shot analogue film. So, it was not something that I had ever worked with professionally, until a few years back. Around 2014 it was impossible to miss, that young art photographers such as Ryan McGinley, Harley Weir and Jamie Hawkesworth, was quickly making their way into fashion photography, and I do not think many magazines has seen a pitch or a mood board in the past 5 years, without having at least one of their works in it. And for good reason. It is impossible not to be amazed by the organic feel and vivid colors in their work, as well as analogue photography in general. Digital is very homogeneous. You can add color with lighting, but the feeling is more and more defined by retouch and color grading, whereas with analogue you never quite know exactly how your work is going to turn out. It also requires you to work much more concentrated. You can’t just shoot for 10-15 minutes, and then go through the images afterwards on the screen. You have to direct your subjects much more and be more certain of the mood and feel as you start shooting. It is however a wet dream of mine that we will soon see a modern medium format film camera that has all the benefits of modern autofocus and reliability.
What is your favourite work by any other photographer?
I do not think that the world of photography has ever been as inspiring, as it is right now. The industry has seen tremendous change, and so many talented people have stepped up to the plate. The star monopoly has been broken, and today you see people, that you have never heard of shooting the cover of Italian Vogue. From years 1988 to 2016 every single cover of Italian Vogue was shot by Steven Meisel. As great a story as that is, it is truly a pleasure to see new talent in the leading magazines. Especially Vogue Ukraine has a very inspiring profile and uses great photographers.
At the moment some of my favourite photographers are Tom Johnson, Andrew Jacobs, Brett Lloyd and Cho Gi Seok. Rather than an original Juergen Teller print, I would much rather hang their works on my wall.
What is your most beloved piece of work?
When looking at all of my work, it is very hard to choose which one of my shoots are my favourite. However, I tend to work best when I have complete freedom in my process. The more playful the shoot, the better the images are. One of my recent shoots that I am really pleased with, was for Schön Magazine. A small team and I went to the Swiss Alps, and it felt just like a road trip with a group of friends who was all completely in tune. Everything went so smooth and easy. The synergy of the team completely lifted the shoot, and it was one of the best and most exciting days of my career.
Have you already shot your best shot - and if not, how does one develop further?
I think it is impossible to define what my best shot is - or will be, even when it is all over. A general complex amongst photographers, or people in general, is that they are never satisfied with their work or their career. No matter what big job you land, you will always aim higher. I think; the minute you do not feel like this, you stop evolving and developing.
When the day arrives, where I am no longer inspired by the works of other photographers, new emerging talents or well-established heavy-weights - that is the day I will stop being a photographer professionally. From that day on, I will shoot pictures only as a hobby, and find some other way of paying my rent. It has been the death of many photographers’ creativity to be concerned with paying the costs of running a studio.
How do you feel that working continuously with the same client develops not only the relationship but also the outcome?
Fostering long-term relations with clients, allows me to take part in cultivating their entire profile. You develop a deeper knowledge of the clients’ needs, but also of the audience that you are brought in to inspire. Besides that, working with what is essentially good friends, makes for a much more open and trustworthy environment. You are not afraid of conflict, and you have a higher degree of independence in direction, if your clients trust you.
For example, the first time we shot a campaign on film with Les Deux, it was very important that the creative director had trust in me, as you can’t monitor your output in the same way, as when shooting digitally. You do not see the actual images before days later, and by then, it is too late to fly back to Paris and shoot it all over. That takes trust. Plus, we do actually have a lot of fun when working together, whether we are in the studio or in the south of France.