I am so pleased to feature the work of photographer Ditte Isager on POP. Ditte is a New York based photographer specializing in shooting interiors, food, still-life, personalities, lifestyle and travel. Represented by Edge Reps, Ditte’s client list includes Anthropologie, Banana Republic, West Elm, Canvas, Day Birger Mikkelsen, Ochre, Vogue Living, Hapers Bazaar, and Bon Appetit among others. Ditte is from Copenhagen, Denmark and since 2006 has lived in New York City.
Ditte is one of my very favorite photographers working right now. Once I discovered her work, I went back to her site and her portfolios on her rep’s site on nearly a daily basis for weeks. I never tire of looking at her work. Graphic, cinematic and poetic it is filled with a magic that comes from right here, from the way elements are put together and contrasted, light is captured and simple objects placed in composition. Her interiors are each an elegantly styled still-life, her still-lifes and food shots are deep, rich, and organic. She cites occasional inspirations, but I think her main inspiration is really deep within herself. An effortless well of creativity, a tremendously sophisticated aesthetic sensibility and a pure love of light. Brought to life with masterful technical skills.
I’m running a lot of images because they are so beautiful I wanted to share them all. Ditte is incredibly busy and I’m grateful we had time to connect. Thank you to Ditte for all her time and for her amazing talent and for sharing so much with us.
POP: What were your earliest artistic interests?
My dad had a dark room in the basement. I helped him out there from an early age. My father died when I was quite young, so everything he did I adored. And photography was one of these interests. And then in school I studied photography.
I thought I was going to be a war photographer. When I was 14, I wrote an interview with a woman Danish photographer and thought it was amazing she could go to these war zones and make incredibly beautiful pictures from something that wasn’t really beautiful. So it made me want to read this story in the newspaper instead of wanting to go away from it because it was so horrible.
This is when I made up my mind that this was what I wanted to do. I went to normal high school and did an apprenticeship. You get a job with one photographer and follow them for 4 ½ years. Before I did this, I took several jobs and took one assisting one photographer. It wasn’t glamorous but I got interested in the lighting and how you could create light.
After my education I trained at a studio called Schiller. It was very inspiring. 25 photographers, post production lab, and producers sharing a large space. It was a fantastic place to “grow up.”
The whole way of seeing that you learn while assisting is amazing, that you can go to school and the studio and see every part of the work with so many different photographers: fashion, food, still-life, advertising. I also spent a lot of hours in the darkroom. I could go in on the weekend and evenings and make my own work and they pushed us to shoot our own stuff and enter competitions with each other.
Everyone helped each other. I think it’s different now. If you grow up at a place like that, you aren’t as protective of your stuff. You work with so many photographers. I help anyone who asks because I had so much help from other people.
POP: Aesthetic development?
It started when I was there, but it has changed over time. One of the photographers worked with daylight and this gave me a love for this. And I still think I learn every day. I like my light a certain way, but you never know what you’re going to get. It can be a sunny day or rainy day and you have to get the most out of it.
The lifestyle and design is different in Scandinavia. It’s different everywhere, but Danish people are more easygoing in a way. It’s a very easy life and it’s a very secure life to grow up in.
POP: Did you study design as well as photography? How did you develop or evolve your aesthetic?
No. Only photography, but I have always loved design. My mum started out studying architecture before getting a degree in math. And my dad was as a historian, upset with churches and old monuments. So I grew up looking at design from two very different ways.
POP: What came first, a love of light or of objects and design? Were you aware of light and the formal themes in your work from a young age?
As a Dane you are aware of light from the time you are born. Half of the year is so dark so you spend it longing for the light summer evenings.
POP: You’ve mastered lighting, style, and composition. What was your process for getting here?
Kept my eyes and mind open and by looking at the great masters in photography and painting.
POP: You photograph interiors, still life, food and people. Your style remains consistent across all these specialties. What balance is struck to ensure your vision is maintained while getting the most creative collaboration?
I just do what I like. My style has for sure changed a bit over the years, but that is just a mirror of my personal style. I’m very lucky to be working with some very talented stylists. We discuss everything, both styling, lighting and photography. It is always a close co-operation. I always work with the same few stylist we know each other well, so it is always a nice creative collaboration.
POP: What do you most value in a stylist? At a certain point, you started to work with the very best teams. How is the collaboration different working at this level?
I think the most important thing is that you work well together and have the same vision for the shoot; it has to be fun, not a fight.
It is important that a stylist can build up a story with me, that we can work together, that they can find what we need and don’t need to make the shot. And of course bring the unexpected.
You have to be your best. You’re never better than your last picture. I prepare for shoots with everyone I’m working with. And talk everything through with the client and the stylist and what we expect and what we want to do with the shoot. I do use a lot of time prepping and this is as important as the shoot day. If you’re missing something, you’ll never get the shot. Talking ideas and props is super important and fun, one of the most fun parts of the shoot is before the shoot.
POP: Your images often have a dark, moody, cold tone contrasted with stark white and varied textures. Somehow this creates incredible beauty. And there is usually nature in your compositions.
I’m always working with natural light and one of my biggest inspirations is the daylight and how it moves through the day. I’m very aware of contrast and colors and working with the details.
POP: In your work, you often bring the outside in and the inside out with accessories, props and subject. In California, this is a natural extension of a lifestyle dictated by the climate. And nature features strongly. Where is this from in your images?
For sure a love for nature, but also because I think something magic happens when you take things out of their normal environment. I’m always looking for contrast.
POP: Scandinavia has a long history of still-life painting, mostly with secular themes. Does the secular history of the region play a role in the appreciation for the beauty of the natural world?
Yes for sure.
POP: You’ve said that your work is influenced by NY, but that you’ve stayed true to your Nordic roots.
Scandinavian style is very minimal, I think NY is more dynamic and open. I think that when you live in a city with so many different cultures and people, you pick a little bit of everything.
It’s changed my way of working. Here in NY things are done differently. A Danish magazine publisher I work with now runs four magazines. They run all four magazines with one staff.
Here there are so many people on set, assistants for everyone and I can concentrate on taking pictures. The teams in Denmark are so much smaller. It’s a smaller industry in Copenhagen. You know what everyone is doing and what they’ve been shooting.
I go back and forth to Copenhagen. I still have clients there. The contrast between the two and being in both cities and spending time in Copenhagen—I get the best out of both cities. Then I don’t get bored of any of it.
The way you live in Denmark is definitely different from here. It has been incredibly inspiring for me to live in NY. The vibe, the energy, the diversity…NY is a very special place.
POP: The contrast between the old and new is primary in Nordic and European culture.
It’s very important to me, the contrast of the old and the new. New York has helped me with this. Sometimes we can be clean and minimal in the interior. A Danish modern chair can be much more beautiful in an old house or against an old wall or in a modern building. Very important when you make a picture.
When colors and textures are similar to each other, say in a food shot, I will ask for a plate or background that is different. Objects play against each other in a nice way when they’re not all the same.
New York is exciting because it’s not what I come from. The beauty of a city like Copenhagen is that the city center is very old compared with here where uptown is new buildings against each other. Copenhagen is very old and pretty, an old city and culture of very modern design.
POP: What role does design play in Nordic life as opposed to American life and how has this informed your photography?
I think design plays a big role in Nordic life as it does in American. The style is a little different, where the Nordic design is extremely simple and sometimes a little cold, the Americans I see here in NY is more raw and mixed. I love both and I like to take some things from both and mix them. The contrast is the beauty.
Danish people are very aware of their homes and how they look. We have people over for dinner. Your social life is in your home. Where in NY you often meet at a restaurant.
POP: Do you see a difference in the work of Scandinavian photographers?
The biggest difference is the appreciation of light, Scandinavian’s LOVE light, otherwise I don’t think there is a big difference.
POP: What have you drawn from in art history? What from still-life and portrait painting do we see in your work?
I’m very inspired by the light in the old painters work. I love the light and colors in Vilhelm Hammershøi pictures.
POP: Shooting the NOMA cookbook must have been an incredibly fun and inspiring project. What were your creative parameters? How did you approach the project? What were you trying to capture?
We were trying to capture the soul of Noma. We started without a publisher, so it was Rene, Christine & I, our ideas and dreams. Phaidon took over after we had shot for three years and I think they did an amazing job with the layout.
Working with Rene is fantastic; he is a very inspiriting, sweet and fun person to be with. I have worked with him for nine years now. I feel very lucky that I have been part of this. It has been so much fun and a fantastic journey to see the restaurant come together from the first day where no one believed in it to today where Rene is attending the Times party for the 100 most influential people in the world.
POP: In the Day Birger Mikkelsen campaign styled by Christine Rudolph, the clouds figure as a key element in the image. Did nature cooperate that day? How much planning went into getting the right sky, breeze and light?
We were very lucky to have an amazing sky, and then we started very very early, since a Danish summer day starts early it gets light between 4-5AM.
POP: Powder Pink brings your aesthetic to cosmetics. It’s a unique, distinctive approach to cosmetics.
Powder pink, was a private project I did with stylist Kim Ficaro. We do that sometimes if we both have a day off, make pictures we love.
POP: The world of design is heavily influenced by Scandinavian design. What other cultures do you find inspiring?
I am very fascinated by the Latin countries, France and Italy. Paris is amazing. I would love to live there once.
POP: Any favorites of your photos?
That’s must be the first picture I did for an exhibition I’m just finishing now after four years work. The show will be in Denmark in September.
POP: Personal collections?
Old cameras, weird dolls from the flea market, lamps.
POP: Favorite store in NY?
Ochre & ABC and the flea market at 25th St.
POP: Inspiring/memorable places you’ve traveled in the US?
The mountains and snow in Colorado and the desert in California. The US has everything. The contrast is amazing.
POP: Most visually inspiring films? Directors?
I love the colors, styling and mood in The Piano. The feel in all Sophia Coppola’s work.
Kieslowski’s blue from the three colors has been a huge inspiration. The music, the colors, the light, the feel, I saw it for the first time when I was 16. I wrote the main report in high school about it and have seen it so many times since….beautiful.