Shooting for the stars

Johanna Siring has made a name for herself in photography during the last couple of years. In her latest series «Kiss of a stranger», she photographed people she met at The Roskilde Festival, before and after she kissed them. The series had a viral success and has been shown by the CNN, Fotografiska, Snapchat, Vice and I-D, among others. The girl from Grimstad now works in New York City for MATTE.

Where did the idea to kiss strangers at Roskilde come from? And what did you hope to capture?


The idea came from an article published in the Roskilde festival’s own paper, that discussed different chemicals in the brain that makes you happy, and how they are released in different settings during a festival. I think it’s very interesting how easily we can connect and bond with new people, and I was inspired to see if there was a way I could document the effect of these chemicals through a kiss. I hoped to capture real emotion on their faces, and be able to document how quickly we can go from complete strangers to form an emotional bond with another human being. What surprised me about the result was that I feel that you can see such a clear difference in what people think make them look attractive and what truly makes someone attractive. In the initial photograph, they all pose with rehearsed expressions and angles, while in the second portrait, the act is completely dropped and their whole body language opens up and there is a new friendliness in their eyes.

How did you first fall into photography?


“Falling into photography” is actually the perfect way to describe how I got started! I was 20 years old, living in Trondheim, and was a bit lost in regard to what I wanted to do. I started a bachelor’s degree in English, but needed something creative to keep my hands and mind busy. My roommate at the time was kind of a cool it-girl, and she was suddenly offered a position as editor for a local culture magazine. I was really inspired by her and wanted to join the adventure and told her I would like to take photos for the magazine. She was like “do you know photography?” And I was like “sure!” and then went and bought my first camera… I barely knew how to turn on the darn thing, but in some magical way, she liked what I shot, and I have been working ever since!

"I had no idea about the vast world of knowledge around the trade, so I approached it blindly and therefore also fearlessly"

How has your approach to photography changed since you initially started shooting?


In some weird way, I find it very lucky that I started doing photography with no training and not having a clue about what I should know about photography. I had no idea about the vast world of knowledge around the trade, so I approached it blindly and therefore also fearlessly. I didn’t know any rules or technical stuff at all, so I just learned by doing. This was a challenge that led me to be able to read light quite well, as my equipment was very poor, I would search for the best opportunity for good lighting in any setting when I was out shooting. I worked like that for three years, before starting school at Bilder Nordic School of Photography in Oslo. I was the biggest geek in class going, “aaaaah, that’s how it works!”, when they explained all the basic stuff. Haha, the school made my life so much easier, as I learned what a RAW file and a Photoshop Document were. So, I guess you can say my knowledge have expanded a bit, but I still stick to shooting the way I started. I kind of developed my style by using very little gear and gadgets and preferring to improvise with existing light whether it’s outside or indoors.

Moving to New York to work with photography is a big dream for a lot of people, how did you do it?


I made no plans, bought a one-way ticket and left! I just needed to challenge myself, to travel completely on my own with no safety net, and see what could happen. I was overthinking it at the start though, telling everyone I was going to live in New York for three months and travel around by myself, making this big deal out of it. It was scary and I was worried about money before even having booked the ticket, and about letting myself and everyone else down. But my dad brought me down to earth, saying that I shouldn’t plan to much, and If I ran out of money after two weeks, I could always go home and then return later at some point. It would not be the end of the world. At the end of the day - no one really cares if you fail. Most people are too preoccupied with their own lives. So then I actually went through with it, I found out that people are amazingly including and friendly when you travel alone. I was also very lucky, a friend of a friend hooked me up with a room in this amazing loft in Brooklyn, and I loved it so much I didn’t want to leave. With this apartment came a group of friends I was so fortunate to be included in, and they are all in the same business as me, something that helped me network and find opportunities to apply for a visa. I have been lucky in many ways after arriving in New York, but then again: you have to be willing to put yourself in a risky position, where you can take advantage of the opportunities that cross your path. In a way, you are creating your own luck. Just dive into it!

During the past year, you have shot a lot of celebrities, is it different from shooting unknown people? Do you approach it the same way?


I like to approach people the same way whether they are celebrities or regular people, I strive to capture the essence of a person in every portrait. But there is one huge difference, that makes shooting celebrities especially challenging: you usually only get a few seconds with them to nail the shot, and it’s pretty much impossible to get under their skin. Their world is so strictly managed and their time is money, so you have to be prepared and precise, do your job and get out of their way.

What is the biggest difference working with photography in Norway and in the US?


New York is a city with a lot of competition, and you are up against the greatest photographers in the world, so it is a challenge to stand out in the crowd and compete for the same jobs. But then again, people are very generous when it comes to helping each other up. There is a mentality here that is kind of like "what goes around comes around", we are all in the same struggle of surviving in an expensive city like New York. Most people I've met in the industry have offered to hook me up with their contacts before they've even seen my work. In Norway, I feel like there is more of a "every person for themselves" kind of attitude, but then again, the market is smaller and the jobs are farther between.

What projects are you working on now?


Right now, I am working on a collaboration with Sony that will take place in Stockholm, and working on a story for Dagbladet Magasinet that will hopefully come out this winter. I am also so fortunate enough to collaborate with a creative agency in New York called MATTE that provides me with new interesting projects every month. We recently covered a huge project in New York with Cartiér and Stevie Nicks, which was super exciting!

What do you dream of doing next?


My ultimate dream is to be commissioned to shoot portraits for magazines like Interview Magazine, New York Magazine, Vogue, New York Times etc. I mean - why not dream big, you never know what could happen!