The wild coast and the deep forests of her native Norway have shaped the way photographer Thea Caroline Sneve Løvstad experiences, observes and captures nature. Now based in London and working as an eco-artist, she is more determined than ever to inspire a new, more ethical and sustainable relationship both with ourselves and the planet. And do so through the quiet potency of her pictures, where she plays with natural light, raw colours, pure shapes and organic textures to reveal the subtle, serene and simple beauty of nature.
Hi Thea, could you let us know a bit about yourself and your background as a photographer?
I am a Norwegian, London-based photographer and eco artist. My childhood was mostly spent at the seaside in my hometown Kragerø, apart from one year when I lived in South-Korea with my parents. Throughout my upbringing I have been super lucky to have the opportunity to travel a lot around the world, something I believe has set the tone of my aesthetics and big passion: to observe.
At the age of 19, I moved to London to do a BA in art photography and after graduating I decided to stay there – it’s been nine years already... How time flies! I started freelancing as a photographer in 2015, whilst also doing some internships for various fashion brands. I never intended to work as a designer or with fashion in that sense, but I thought it was good to get some insight into that side of the industry too. The brands I worked for were not so bad in terms of sustainability, however it still made me realise the amount of waste accumulated and the resources necessary in order to produce garments.
How do you feel your upbringing in a small sea village in Norway has shaped the way you look and capture nature?
Spending time in nature makes you truly appreciate every aspect of it and to not take it for granted. I was brought up to respect nature, recycle waste and be mindful with the imprint left. I believe this mentality (which is very common in Norway) has made me look at all the tiny details and appreciate the small yet significant everyday moments we might take for granted at times.
I also think my access to nature, both the wild coast and deep forests, has shaped my photography conceptually as well as visually. The lack of light during winter, the abundance of light during summer, these extremes have definitely made me very aware of lighting and added this touch to my imagery: I love playing and experimenting with existing, natural light.
You call yourself an “eco-artist”. What do you mean by this term?
It’s a title I’ve come up with myself in order to describe a complete lifestyle and mindset, both personally and in my art work. On a personal level it includes being mindful about consumption, that is, the food eaten, the clothes worn, dwellings, electricity used, cosmetics, etc. The main point is to always consider the following: ‘Where does it originate from, how does it affect nature, where will it end up and lastly can it somehow be reused and close the cycle?’ None of us can tick all the boxes and be 100% perfect, but as far as possible, I wish to leave a small footprint. I wish to create and be part of a circular economy.
In real life this means a plant-based diet, with locally produced food and ideally no packaging (or at least, biodegradable). I only buy five garments per season and they should be ethically made and consist of eco-friendly and long-lasting materials, vintage or second-hand. In terms of cosmetics I try using the bare minimum, all organic. Keeping reusable bottles and boxes in bags is a way to avoid unnecessary waste when ordering takeaway. Last but not least, I try shifting my focus on the more important things in life such as family, friends and memories rather than objects of desire.
On a professional basis, my aim is to solely work and collaborate with like-minded clients, leading an ethical and eco-friendly vision and practice. This also includes the MUA and models I work with and ideally the studio I’m shooting in too: preferably there should be a no single-use plastic policy and a green energy provider (however, this has also been more difficult during pandemic). All my prints are made in a lab providing a carbon neutral production and delivery in addition to using sustainable and biodegradable ink and paper. The downside of my job (in a climate aspect) is that my work at times requires a bit of travelling, however I try keeping most of the work local, in London. If travelling by plane, I offset my flight emissions.
Was there a particular lightbulb moment where you decided to focus on sustainability?
No, it happened rather gradually and very naturally I would say. A seed was planted when I moved to England with only one suitcase of belongings and clothes. I sort of started from scratch and got really into the “less is more” mentality, which was very trendy around that time. The second year of my studies (2013-2014) I started researching environmental impact and pollution, and plastic pollution became the main subject of my project. The final year of the BA my research continued in this path and led to the vision I have today.
As an artist, do you feel you have a responsibility to educate people and inspire social change?
Yes, I believe any person is responsible for this, but especially if you are a creator whose work will be shared on various platforms and used as advertising, it is especially important to be particularly mindful about what you share and stand for. As an example, it is a minor detail, but I never share images containing plastic (unless it is to show the horrors of plastic pollution or similar). Of course it is impossible to avoid plastic completely in our lives, but at least it is not something I wish to promote, hence you will never find any imagery containing plastic on my feed or in my photography.
In addition to that, I wish to inspire social change by showing beautiful and serene images that also convey an important message. Therefore the clients I choose are crucial and this also goes for the models I work with: they should be in all shapes, sizes and colours and represent variety.
What are the landscapes that inspire you the most?
Coastal landscapes – there is just something about the sea and the constant movement, energy and richness of salt water that fascinates me. The sounds, the smells. All the life underneath that we are yet to discover!
What are some of the most important things you’ve learned photographing nature?
There are sculptures in nature no human can copy, the vast creations of nature are just impeccable and we have to do everything to preserve it all. The most important thing I have learnt is to be patient yet quick: we can never tweak the natural light or weather, a remarkable detail might disappear in a second so you better catch it as soon as you vision it. Always keep the eyes open because the best subjects tend to appear in a blink and when you least expect it to.
Your photos convey a sense of calm and serenity, but also some kind of mystery in your exploration of textures. Is this something deliberate?
To some extent yes, I want the viewer to feel a sense of calm and serenity when experiencing my work and I would like them to understand the images themselves, create their own stories, thus I tend to make the themes less obvious. Without the abstractness, I think they would lose their magic. Nevertheless, lots of the images are very candid and happen without any planning at all, therefore the storytelling is often a result of curating the images afterwards.
That said, subconsciously most of my images are a reflection of my personality too: I have always felt this sense of melancholy, appreciated solitude and had a fascination for the abstract where you cannot quite put your finger on it.
What are your thoughts on beauty?
Beauty is a feeling. Although there have been some certain beauty trends throughout humanity (purely visual), we all have different taste when it comes down to it, so I believe it is more about a feeling: either something you feel when you take care of yourself or a sense of “aura” from others. Beauty is also a big, big smile!
Tell us about the inspiration behind your series for ROWSE?
Stylist Sophie Jane Kirk and I wanted to focus on the changing season, from autumn to winter, as well as connecting our upbringings. We both grew up surrounded by deep green forests and four very distinctive seasons, in Canada and Norway, which have similar landscapes and climates. The organic tones and props used are meant to convey the earthy scents that come from damp moss, evergreen pines and the winter sun that melts frost on a cold morning. We feel that ROWSE embodies a true sense of wild earthiness, which really inspired the concept for this series.
Finally, what are your hopes for the new year we have just started?
After this terrible year I hope we have learnt to not take anything for granted, be kinder to each other and start caring more for the planet. I truly hope 2021 will be the beginning of the end of Covid-19 and that we can start living properly again. Cannot wait for hugs to be a thing once again!
LK Studio X ROWSE