Sonja L. is a self-taught photographer born and raised in Helsinki, Finland. She likes to mix elements from fashion photography, vintage advertisements, pop art and popular American culture’s clichés.
“My vision is to create glossy, delicious looking and distinctive life photos that are a feast for the eyes and always contain a small story. I want my pictures to look like stills from some random movie and often my photos contain hidden references to a surrounding culture and history.”
Her sublime work often deals with materialism, vanity, suburban housewives’ lifestyles and womanhood in the Western world with an extravagant and kitschy style.
« My photos usually capture some ordinary moment in an extraordinary setting. They are at the same time both mundane and surreal. Visually I take inspiration from retro feelings of 1950’s-1960’s, vibrant colors of old Technicolor movies, vinyl album covers, 1980’s neon aesthetics, camp, and kitsch. »
Your portfolio is amazingly colorful and beautifully inspiring, what do you want to tell or make people feel like it?
I want my photography to be visually intriguing and distinctive and represent ordinary things and situations with a quirky and playful way. I’m not that interested to photograph the reality exactly like it is, but I want to add there something fun, odd and surreal. In my photos, the visual form, composition and color palette are an important role, but it’s nice if people can also find a story from each photo. Like you were looking film stills from some strange movie or a bizarre advertising catalog.
What was the trigger that got you inspired by photography?
I’ve always been interested in photography and visual arts. High fashion photos in magazines such as Vogue and Elle have inspired me a lot. I absorb inspiration from all kinds of things I see or hear: visual details and colors of some space or place, movies, and music videos, photography and art books etc. This photo series I created at home in self-made set pieces during 2016-2017. I just started to stage photos and I wanted to see what kind of fictitious worlds I could create without a proper studio, models or a professional equipment. I wanted to make something exaggerating, kitschy and colorful in contrast to the grey and calm surroundings of wintery Finland and rebel a little bit against always fashionable Scandinavian minimalism.
What’s your favorite picture from this series and why?
One of my favorite pictures is Sweet/Sour (see main picture) because I got the right mood and color palette exactly like I wanted it. The vision of the photo was 1950’s or 1960’s suburban kitchen with a weird twist.
You use a lot of vintage/retro into your pictures. How did you come up with this style?
I guess there’s something mythical about the decades that you have not experienced yourself. I really like the visual style of color film movies and photos from the era before digital technology. I like the distinctive style and trends of different decades in the 20th century and I’m very interested in the 20th century’s history in all. It’s fascinating how fast world changed during that era and how things were invented for the first time. However, for me, retro doesn’t mean I’m glorifying past times, but I’m just into certain aesthetics of those times.
How do you spend your day when you’re not photographing?
At the moment I work on a project that deals with art expert work and public art in the municipalities of Finland. When I’m not photographing or working, I like to spend time outdoors, walk along the seashores of Helsinki, listening to music and search new bands and artists, write and travel.
What are your idols from that era that you look up to? And why?
I don’t have any specific idol, but I love the elegance of femme fatales in film noir films and the way they hold a cigarette. There’s something decadent and stylish about it. I don’t smoke, but there’s a lot of cigarettes in my photos.
I also admire the attitude of 1980’s bands and artists, when people dared to try everything new in music and in their style without any irony. Nowadays many of those things might look silly and ridiculous, but I’m a big fan of 80’s extravagance.