This is exciting! I feel like I’ve been bugging Linnea Stephan to send me some work for over a year now (this could be an exaggeration though). In any case, the Los Angeles-based photographer isn’t one of those people constantly posting a steady stream to Instagram; she makes work slowly and carefully. You kinda get that sense looking at these images—each one feels like a still from a movie.
Jeff Hamada: What was it like growing up in Lindstrom, Minnesota? Is everyone there Swedish or what?
Linnea Stephan: I’ll begin by saying that I love Minnesota, so much. It’s very beautiful. My parents own a small farm and I was constantly inventing my own entertainment alongside my siblings. We would go canoeing a lot, sometimes camping and paddling for weeks at a time. I’ll never forget the time my sister was bored to tears which prompted my dad to climb ashore, returning minutes later with a burnt stick from some fire pit and tree bark for her to make charcoal drawings with.
There are a lot of Swedish people in my hometown, although more Germans. Not exactly diverse. Growing up in Lindstrom was tumultuous by the time I left. My experience there had accelerated from a simple childhood to a tiny world filled with closing businesses and drug overdoses.
Jeff Hamada: I read it was your dad who gave you your first camera, are you from a family of photographers?
Linnea Stephan: I am not. My dad is a blue collar hero working in transportation, and my mother works in healthcare. My Grandpa John was a farmer, but he had cameras and a really neat monogrammed wool camera strap that I have now. I’m lucky to have a stash of incredible old photos from both sides of the family, my parents keep most of them in a treasure chest at the foot of their bed. I don’t think anyone identified as a photographer but I’m glad they made pictures.
Jeff Hamada: Can you describe the first photo you took where you felt like it might be something you could be good at?
Linnea Stephan: The first photo I felt seriously about is also the first photo I developed in a darkroom, from negative to printed picture. It’s a picture I took in a high school photography workshop held by Art Institutes (rest in peace). The photo is of a man in a suit sitting alone on a bench under a large tree, his head held in his hands. You can only see his back but the posture gives it all away. He’s sitting in front of a bank building with some strange public art piece between him and the building. I liked it enough to make a 60 inch print my first year of art school, which my sister now has.
Jeff Hamada: How has your style changed in the last few years?
Linnea Stephan: When I studied photography, I really wanted to be a photojournalist. Then I learned about the pace of journalism and knew it wasn’t for me. I love street photography so much but I don’t create it as often as I used to. I think I decided to take the mood and integrity of those types of pictures and attempted to apply it to portraits that are more composed and controlled. A lot of my work is still candid but it’s made very slowly. I’ll shoot a music festival for three days but only save one portrait from it that I caught feelings for. I am editing myself a lot but recently trying to loosen up again.
Jeff Hamada: When you were describing some of your landscape-focused work to me, you used the words “quiet” and “pastel”. How would you describe the works included here?
Linnea Stephan: Direct. saturated, curious, anecdotal.
Jeff Hamada: I read your beautiful blog post about the loss of your partner many years ago and was wondering if you’ve continued the practice of daily stream of consciousness writing?
Linnea Stephan: The blog post came about because stream of consciousness writing is so inherently vulnerable that it feels like a potential therapy session. Or you take the total opposite approach and then you’re just writing about seemingly nothing, which is also very odd to write about. Either way it’s intimidating to commit to but I think its a great idea. Right now I write about a page every three weeks, but I’m bit of a perfectionist about writing so it’s been a really big challenge.
I think one benefit of “Morning Pages” is to learn how to connect your edited work and your “personal work” enough for them to learn from one another. I am very quick to romanticize anything that has to do with process.
Jeff Hamada: Is there anything (big or small) that photography has revealed to you about yourself?
Linnea Stephan: Photography has taught me that being highly observant won’t save me from being incredibly accident prone. I can read billboards from further away than anyone I know but I’m not as good at concentrating as I used to be. I’ve learned that I’m a social butterfly, which I’m admitting here even though the term is pretty cringe worthy. Photography has taught me so much about patience and pace. I don’t get down when I have to wait in the checkout line or at the laundromat because I get to just look around for pictures or for scenes that make me happy to be here. Conversely, when when I need everything to be flash bulbs ablaze and loud music and rushed movement, it is.
Jeff Hamada: Who are some other emerging photographers inspiring you these days?
Jeff Hamada: Can you recommend something I should listen to or read that I might not have heard of?
Linnea Stephan: One of my favorite books that I own is Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery. It’s actually for young readers and is a collection of short stories, with the coolest cover design and end paper I’ve ever seen!
Jeff Hamada: I propose we end this by imagining that someone makes a film about your life up until this point—What’s the title, who directs it, and what’s the opening song?
Linnea Stephan: Staring is Caring, directed by Angelina Jolie, and the opening song is “This Must Be the Place” by the Talking Heads.