Text: Caroline Krager // Images: Thea Løvstad
Published: 10 December 2019
The Norwegian London based photographer Thea Løvstad, who has previously worked with Chanel, tells The Doyennes about her choice to only work with sustainable brands, the pay gap between women and men in the industry and feminism.
– I was 16 when I first picked up a camera. I bought a cheap Canon DSLR, took a bunch of outfit photos and arranged shoots with my friends. Oh, and obviously I uploaded all the photos to my very own blog. It was compulsory at the time. Such a cliché, says Thea Løvstad with a slightly embarrassed little laugh.
The scent of coffee and fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon buns tickle our noses, making it impossible to resist queuing up to get in on the action. There are traditional Swedish candy and Norwegian tubed salty peach-colored caviar on offer here as well. To complete the Scandi trio someone is speaking Danish a couple of tables away. It all of a sudden seems like we're incredibly close to home, but the black cabs trotting forward outside reveal that we’re still in fact in London, more specifically the café Benk + Bo where the owner is, like us, Norwegian.
There are almost 9.6 million more people in this chaotic city than in the place Løvstad grew up: Kragerø, a town in the southernmost part of Norway with only 11.000 inhabitants. The rocky shores lining the ocean there have over time been polished by the waves until they're smooth as the silky sheets in fancy hotels. Crooked pine, sprightly leafy birch, and oak trees shimmy in the sea breeze and sweet white, red and yellow-painted wooden houses cling together, with narrow alleyways sneaking in between.
– Growing up in and around the archipelago there was heaps of inspiration to be taken from my surroundings. It was such a luxury.
– I still think of nature as one of my main sources of inspiration today.
You might have come across Løvstad on Instagram where her current number of followers eagerly leans towards 8000. The 26-year old's feed, which doubles as her portfolio, incorporates all the elements of the Scandinavian aesthetic formula the world has grown to love; the beige mixed with wood, ceramics, and glass. Minimalist black, white or grey garments with a backdrop of natural vistas and a few streaks of hygge or the new Swedish buzzword lagom.
It was seven years ago that she decided to transform her love of capturing her life on film from a teen passion to a possible career as a photographer. Shortly after she turned 19 she commenced her studies at Kingston University, just south of London.
– I thought photography would be the perfect way for me to merge my interests in interior design, architecture, fashion, nature, and art. But my teachers were wildly skeptical in terms of me not choosing just one specific photographic direction.
– Close to all of my fellow students were either wildlife, wedding, portrait or very artsy photographers, whilst I decided to keep more of an open mind.
She still felt like she had the number one most important factor if you want to pursue professional photography; the eye for it and a clear vision.
– As long as I can remember I've noticed things around me that perhaps most people don't. A random pile of rocks resembling a sculpture or streaks of light streaming through the curtains, creating interesting shapes on the walls.
– I find that there's something quite wonderful about those moments, they almost feel serendipitous.
Not sustainable? Not happening.
After finishing her bachelor’s at 22 she took six months off to draw in fresh air by the sea in Norway and charge her batteries before testing the waters as a freelance photographer in London. That's not an endeavor that can ever be described as anything close to easy, but Løvstad made it more difficult for herself still; She decided she would only work with brands that shared her eco-conscious ethos.
That was rooted in a personal journey that had started a few years before.
– I moved to London with a single suitcase filled with all the things I needed. That somehow evolved into me incorporating a minimalist mindset and to become aware of how wasteful we are as consumers, how few things we actually need.
As a freelancer though, she would quickly find out the financial ramifications of the choice to solely shoot for the likeminded.
– You wouldn't believe how few sustainable brands there were four years ago! And the ones that did exist back then had incredibly low budgets. It took me a long time to get any clients.
– Without the financial aid of my parents during the first two years, it would have been impossible for me to even think about freelancing. I feel extremely grateful I had that sort of support.
With a current raised awareness around environmental issues via the efforts of Greta Thunberg and others, the number of sustainable brands has now increased tremendously. Løvstad now makes - in her own words - a humble living off of her freelance work and counts Alex Eagle, Otiumberg, Glasshouse, C Soaps, Demellier London, Frankie + Clo and, impressively and perhaps surprisingly, Chanel amongst her clients and collaborators.
– Chanel is not a sustainable brand, but they work with a family farm in Grasse who create their perfumes for them in a sustainable way. That's the reason why I said yes to collaborate with them, she's quick to point out.
We purchase another coffee (Norwegians are amongst the biggest coffee drinkers on the planet) and a dog walker passes by the coffee shop with dogs of myriad sizes on a leash. Our chat moves forward into the ongoing debate about whether we need more brands, even ethical and sustainable ones, with the overhanging climate crisis and the number of garments already in existence on the planet.
– I do sort of agree that there are enough brands as there is. At the same time, it's also incredibly unrealistic to think that we're just going to stop shopping altogether, but we do need to shop far, far less.
– And I also think it's important to remember that even buying vintage or sustainably made garments can be bad for the environment if you purchase online from America and it has to be shipped all the way to Europe.
Even though her clients are almost 100% sustainable, not all garments in Løvstad's closet comes from shops branded as sustainable.
– If I buy something I want it to last for more than 10 years, perhaps even 20. I'm therefore careful to pick timeless, high-quality garments. So even though for example Celine, Issey Miyake or Cos, all brands that can be found in my closet, are not branding themselves as sustainable, they are pieces I'll wear, care for and treasure for a long, long time.
– That's sustainability in my book. None of us are perfect, we're all trying our best.
Female photographers paid less than men
With several years of experience in the industry, she has also, unfortunately, noticed the less appealing sides of it; Amongst them the difference in paychecks between male and female photographers.
– I've definitely had experiences with male clients, in particular, doubting whether I am worth the amount I'm asking for. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to speak up on those occasions, since there are heaps of talented people out there and I was afraid to lose the job.
– Instead, I settled for less, which makes me a bit ashamed. But we live and we learn I guess and I hope and think that this is something that will change in the future.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
– Of course I'm a feminist! Even though I haven't branded myself as a feminist or explicitly put that in my Instagram bio as I have with sustainability, I still think it comes across quite clearly in my work, Løvstad says enthusiastically.
– I encourage the models I shoot to do power poses instead of the standard male gaze poses. I shoot women with underarm hair, people of different shapes and ethnicities. And I try to retouch as little as I can.
In addition to shooting for sustainable brands, Løvstad currently works as a contributing photo editor for Å journal and on a collaboration with the painter Alexandra Coe and the sustainable Swedish stocking brand Swedish stockings. Shortly after our caffein-heavy conversation in these Scandi surroundings, she's heading off - she tells me - to see Coe, as their project is in its final stages and decisions need to be made.
The Doyennes is a magazine about strong, creative, independent women. When do you feel the most powerful professionally and personally?
– When I'm in a team of all women, which happens really frequently these days actually. There are just so many incredibly talented women out there!
– And to be honest, accomplishing things career-wise is probably the thing that makes me feel most powerful and happy in my personal life as well. But that's not too bad, is it?