How did you find your passion for photography? I took my first photograph when I was thirteen years old. It was of my brother, who is a musician and my biggest muse. He had just come from New York, and he had this drag persona, Cristal Snow. He was wearing makeup and my mother’s old dress, lying at our summer cottage table. I remember him looking at the pictures and saying, “These are actually really good.” That is my first memory of getting excited about photography.
When I was sixteen years old, I got hooked on social media. I started taking photos of myself and putting them on the internet. My generation is the first generation that could upload pictures of themselves to the web and look for acceptance through selfies. After high school, I applied to art school to study photography.
By the age of sixteen, you were performing as a backup dancer for drag queens. How has your experience with drag culture shaped your current work? My memories of being surrounded by drag queens has created a whole creative side of me. It’s the base for everything I do and create. That experience sparked my interest in gender, sexuality and subcultures. The environment was free, and it was very unique to see this expression and celebration of gender up close. Of course, I also saw the darker side of the industry, like drugs, but I think that also made me curious about people and to see the vulnerability of humans.
What drew you to begin directing? Universal Music Group called me to ask if I could direct a music video for a Finnish female artist in the style of my photos, which are like me—confrontational and rebellious, but also vulnerable and fragile at the same time. I didn’t hesitate at all. I was ready. Even though I didn’t have experience directing, when I was younger, I had been on sets with my brother when his music videos were made by director Misko Iho. I saw what directing is all about. I remember that I was super fascinated about Misko’s presence as a director—how he had the power to see and keep control. I also learned that sets are not glamorous like people think they are—they include long hours, cold weather and waiting.
What additional lessons did you need to learn in order to make the leap into directing? You have to be hungry, do a lot of work and be able to make quick decisions. And don’t be late, or other people will underestimate you.
What tips do you have for succeeding as a female director? Don’t let anybody push you down.
Your work explores gender, femininity and the representation of the female figure in modern media. How do you feel about the way the female figure is being represented in modern media? And how does your work respond to that? With my work as an artist, I try to point out what is false in our society and the system.
We still have too many conventional structures of femininity in our media. In the ’80s, MTV created this standard representation of the female body in videos. The fact that most of those music videos and movies were directed by men created this base that objectified the female body and sexuality. Now, we are fighting against that norm.
Some people are calling this new wave of female power a trend in the commercial market, but I see it purely as a new beginning of our time. Embrace the power of females and gender diversity.
What do you think the relationship is between photography and body activism? Photography is the perfect tool to empower the beauty of gender and of all body shapes. People don’t always see the beauty in themselves.
What advice would you give to creatives who want to represent gender respectfully in their work? Speak from your heart.