Photographer Lea Nielsen, talks to Filep Motwary

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Photographer Léa Nielsen was born in Copenhagen and moved to London aged 16 to train to be a professional dancer. She later took up photography as alternative platform to express her creativity and ideas. Following her studies at the School of Photography in Copenhagen, she assisted a couple of fashion and art photographers in Denmark. She spent a number of years living in Berlin, and now divides her time between Copenhagen, Paris and London.

Nielsen draws inspiration from architecture, art and film, and as such her images are both minimalist and intense; while others are opulent and theatrical. Her images often include elements of collage and strong graphic finishes.

In between commissions Nielsen is working on a number of personal projects. In 2014 she exhibited the portrait series Novizinnen in Berlin and will show more works in Paris later in November 2015.

Her client list includes:, L´Officiel Paris, MIXT(E), Dansk, Flair, Veoir, Glamour,, Fucking Young, 160g, Client Magazine, Barbara I Gongini and Perret Schaad.

LeìaNielsen03 LeìaNielsen04FilepMotwary: Léa, talk to me about the shift from dancing to photography.

Léa Nielsen: I was forced to stop dancing quite early on due to injuries. For a while I thought I wanted to stay in the world of theatre and I spend some time trying out costume and stage-design, but realized it wasn’t for me.

I’ve always been interested in photography as an art form, but never did any myself. At one point I took a short course to see if it was something to pursue…and it was.

Within a few weeks I knew it was what I wanted to do. I started totally from scratch and knew nothing about the technical side of it. I find my experience, working with the body, very useful when composing images today.

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FM: Most of your work focuses on fashion documentation. Was it something you always found interesting or something you discovered by accident?

LN: It is definitely something I always found interesting and has been my main focus in photography from the beginning.Even when I was very young and working on a career in the world of dance, I would buy fashion magazines…never to read but to look at the pictures.I would cut out endless amount of pictures of the Couture shows in Paris and the first fashion magazine I bought was Vogue Italia, while I was still at school.So the interest has always been there… and now it all makes sense.

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FM: Fashion stories are a common canvas between a photographer and a stylist. How do you compose each fashion story?

LN: The process varies a bit from collaboration to collaboration. First a mood is set and then it usually develops more when we know the model that we’re going to work with, the exact location (and what that can add to the story) etc. I always care a lot for the light, which plays a huge part in my image making.

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FM: Do you have any obsessions in terms of characters or models you use? Stories that you always come back to when inventing a photo context?

LN:  “There has to be something disturbing “ …that is something I keep coming back to.

It can be in the story, but often it’s more an abstract feeling that is hard to set a finger on. Like something is going on, but you don’t really know what, the look in the eyes of the model etc… And my images always tend to have quite a dramatic quality to them.

I’m obsessed with the androgynous type of face and I prefer a bit of character. If I could shoot Guinevere Van Seenus all the time, I would.

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FM: How do you see fashion’s evolution in the past 3-4 years. What it is that you find the most interesting?

LN: I think there is openness to new esthetics, new ways of approaching editorial work on all the printed platforms out there and in fashion in general. A lot of creativity and experimental stuff is going on but less is more. I think the amount of work produced within the industry is unnecessary. (collections, magazines, fashion stories and so on). It all becomes a bit watered down…even the good stuff. An evolution that I would like to see happen for the industry in the coming years would be to; slow down and focus on during less but better work.


FM: What do you find interesting in experimenting with alternative photographic subjects or ideals like architecture.

LN: I’ve always been interested in collage. Adding lines over the face of a model on an image adds a very different dimension and I find architecture images a great canvas for this kind of work as well.

I would love to do more personal projects based on architecture and sculpture photography.


FM:  What is the process behind selecting the images for each project?

LN: It’s very intuitive… I know which one to pick when I see it. I don’t shoot a lot of images during a shoot and I pretty much know what I want. Selection is often done when I leave the set.


FM: These images you share with us today, these buildings..?

LN: They are the amazing work by Le Corbusier…Villa Savoye, which is situated outside of Paris. I have previously worked a bit with the combination of architectural images and collage.

I love the atmosphere of this place and decided to make a whole series just around this subject, shot on digital and polaroid. I’m not aiming to make any kind of documentation of the building, but prefer a more abstract approach. The minimalist esthetic of the house makes a suitable canvas for adding graphic work later on.

The house was build around 1930 and some of the graphic work I do is inspired by art of that same period. It was on my desk for quite a while before I knew how to approach it.

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FM: What are you working on now?

LN: The next couple of months I’ll be shooting editorials in Paris, London and Copenhagen. Later in November I also have a small exhibition opening in Paris, which is part of a group show. It’s a collaboration project that I’ve been waiting to show for a long time, so it will be exciting.

More info will be online in a few weeks.

Exhibition opens at MI Galerie, 23 rue Chapon, 75003 Paris.   Vernissage: Thursday the 26th of November.

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