Sweden is one of the least populated countries in the world. As a young person growing up among the midnight suns and northern lights of this serene and spectacular country, twenty-seven-year-old Agnes Thor was drawn to shooting pictures as a way of understanding the phenomenal landscapes, and her place within them.
Whether her pictures feature dramatic valleys and lakes or long-haired sprites running or jumping free, they are always personal, infused with a world view that is rooted in the magic of home and also gazing longingly far afield to new adventures and experiences. She now lives in New York where she continues to find unique compositions in a different kinds of utopias and we caught up with her recently to find out the people, places and things that inspire her blissed-out aesthetic.
Things That Inspire Me…
First Aid Kit
Listening to music provides me with mental images or emotions that I later use in my work. I rarely listen to music when I shoot since I’m mostly outside on different locations, but I have playlists for studio shoots and I often get hooked on a record and then I listen to it repeatedly while editing. Last year when I was working on my solo exhibition At Dawn I listened to First Aid Kit on repeat and their lyrics inspired me in the creation of the titles of the works.
Anders Zorn painted beautiful work of midsummer dances, bathing nudes and landscapes in the mid-nineteenth century from his home in Dalarna, Sweden, where also my mother’s family is from. I’ve spent time there throughout my whole life and feel closely connected to the history of the area as well as their traditions and culture.
Whether I’m in New York, Sweden or anywhere else travelling, I love seeing and shooting the landscape from above. I always want to hike to the highest point, to be in a rooftop bar or be somewhere where I can see far away over the horizon.
I collect a lot of my inspiration from both fiction and non-fiction, and looking in photobooks. Since I spend a lot of work-time in front of the screen I tend to seek inspiration in printed things; I love feeling the texture of the paper – something tangible. I also love doing books, and my work Aurora Borealis was published in 2010 by London based Mörel Books. I’m currently working on a project that will turn out in published form in the coming year.
I’m really inspired by the way the photographer Sally Mann works. She stays close to home and works slowly and mostly with large-format cameras, and I admire her perfectly captured or created moments. Someone once told me to photograph things that are close to my heart, and I’ve stuck with that. I aim to make visual stories that come from a personal perspective but that can have an impact on the viewer as well. I also work on longer projects, for two to three years, and in between that I make shorter visual stories and work on assignments.
A large part of my work is shot around the house that I grew up in; a traditional nineteenth century house in the Swedish countryside, which still offers an endless source of inspiration in the shape of beautiful landscapes and light coming in through the old windows. My parents are both creative and shared their skills, knowledge and art with me; their mix of literature, travel and artisanship is visible in my work and the way I live my life.
Meadow Elves (Ängsävlor) is a painting by Nils Blommér where forest fairies are dancing in a semi-dark landscape somewhere in Sweden. I grew up reading a lot of Swedish myths, many of them about how the landscape hides creatures like fairies or wood nymphs. I always have them in the back of my head when creating work, especially when portraying landscapes, and to me it gives the sceneries an extra level of mystery.
I get a lot of inspiration from watching movies. I love the work of Terence Malik, and the visual language of Ingmar Bergman and his cinematographer Gunnar Fischer. I would love to work more with moving image, and for now I create small clips with my phone when travelling.
The Skagen Painters
This group of painters are from Denmark, but there’s a distinct light in their work that I recognise from the Swedish summers. It was one of my first interactions with art, and I’m very inspired by their pastel-colour palettes and use of the light summer nights in the north.
There’s no sunset in the world that can compete with the feeling of being awake before anyone else and watching the sun rise. When I’m in Sweden I sometimes come home in the morning light, shooting snapshots of the first rays of sun, and more and more I wake up super early and head out with my camera to shoot landscapes or self-portraits. It’s pretty hard to get people to wake up early so I mostly use myself as a model.
Agnes Thor is part of Rekorderlig’s Beautifully Swedish Collective.