Weekly Bubbling: Sofia Okkonen

The Weekly Bubbling series introduces promising talents of the design world. Photographer Sofia Okkonen is interested in gender representation, body image and fantasies. These themes impact her art and her work as a fashion photographer.

How are you?

Very well. I’ve just started at Duotone, which is a fun step on my career. It’s a creative agency of producers, photographers, film directors, videographers and art directors. I was attracted by the thought of a community where people spar and encourage each other and are able to talk shop. I hope to do even larger projects than before. At Duotone, we do commercial work for large companies, and at the same time we’re encouraged to pursue our own artistic projects.

How did you become a photographer?

I’ve always been visually oriented, and I went to a high school specialized in art. It’s been rather a clear path; I’ve been on the way to a creative career all along. I took a course on using the darkroom in high school, took Polaroid pictures and received good feedback. After studying photography for a year in the Dublin School of Technology, I was convinced that camera may be my tool. After that I applied to Aalto University. It was the result of some kind of rationalization: the camera is a tool for making art but I can do other type of gigs, too. I don’t want to be dependent on grants or art sales. Photography is lovely because it allows great freedom. Whatever I may become interested in this world, I have the professional grounds to explore it.

Art or applied photography?

Definitely both. I feel that I can have a fun life if I’m able to find the balance between these two. Making art is a lonely job, so the tighter framework involved in assignments and meeting new people keep me energized. I’m learning new things all the time and facing technical problems, and solving those problems helps me develop as an artist. Then again, I can take something from the deeper content of my artwork to my commercial services.

Your Rose exhibition at the Finnish Museum of Photography depicted a woman sitting in front of a camera. What did you want to say or explore with this exhibition?

The focus of the exhibition was to ponder the performativity of gender. I wanted to play with stereotypically female features, like being emotional, passive, weak or moody. I’m interested in expressing contradicting features – like an anonymous model supposedly wanting to be seen while at the same time rejecting people’s looks. Perhaps it has to do with my personal experience on being looked at or regarding myself as a woman.

You’ve taken lots of fashion photos. What is interesting in that?

I love to do the setup, install the lights and direct the models. When working with a model, the situation is clear: the model accepts being photographed and commits to the situation. There’s energy in the moment. I’ve taken fashion photos for eight years, but it took me a long while to understand that it involves many themes that interest me on a more theoretical level, too: gender representation, sexuality, body image, identities and fantasies. Fashion photography is very charged. It involves nasty and unpleasant features. On the other hand, it’s interesting how fashion always looks ahead. Within that framework I can challenge myself to develop my idiom.

Does the theoretical side impact your work as a photographer?

I hate the glorification of endless consumption and what type of women are presented as beautiful and what are the criteria of beauty. That box is very narrow and often impossible to match. I aim to edit my photos lightly regarding the model: I don’t sculpt a person into an unnatural form. By no means will I further promote the twisted standard of beauty. Sure, I do work for the system, but perhaps I can release the conflict with my art. I can choose which clients to work for based on shared values.

Which skill of your classmates do you envy?

I appreciate distinctive, fearless people who work on their own long-term without constantly peeping at what others do.Obviously I don’t know if that’s just an image they portray.

What would be your dream professionally if anything was possible?

That’s a good question – how big do we dare to dream? I have a fresh draft of a project to study the “cyborgisity” and super-humanity of the future with a feministic focus. I’m interested in how the natural and the artificial intertwine and based on whose values we’ll develop the perfect humanity. I hope I’ll get a chance to continue my work and develop the themes further. I dream to have regular exhibitions and some day to publish a photo book.

What do you do when you don’t take photos?

I travel quite a lot. I visit London regularly because my sister lives there. Next I’m going to Italy, and in the autumn, I’ll participate a group exhibition in Zagreb. Changing the scene feels like a must in order to keep the mind going.

Anna Isoniemi wanted to ask you about perfect light. What makes perfect lighting?

The low, golden light of early evening is stunning. However, as a photographer, I enjoy working for my light. I like to work in the studio, and I get kicks from the tricks that I come up with to look for and control the best light. Perfect light is alive and defined by the object being lit. I’m after challenges, and if I learn a new light-related thing, I feel I’m a bit closer to perfection.

Who do you admire and why?

I admire the sculptor Kristina Sedlerova. She completed a set design degree at Aalto University as well as a sculpting studies in Academy of Fine Arts. I think she used materials, such as stone or styrofoam in a very unexpected and unusual way. Her work has a strong response to spaces and they are often very humoristic as well as mysterious at the same time.

What would you like to ask Kristina?

Hi Kristina! In which material are you most interested at the moment and why?