Interview by GQR
Ema K is a Slovak photographer currently based in Barcelona. She works within a wide scope of different styles, namely portrait photography. Having worked in a range of different projects over the years, collaborating with various professional artists and models, Ema believes that images worth capturing are the ones that require precise organisation and communication.
Her work tends to have strong connections between people and their interaction with nature – whether literal or figurative. In her series of photos that comprise ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’, Ema spent several months finding the right models, the right facial expressions, poses, clothing, and colours—ensuring that all the elements of each image perfectly echoed the sin it was representing. Having researched the theme of the capital sins, and fascinated with tracing its origins in Judeo-Christian culture, Ema became driven to create a contemporary recreation on this subject, with a heavy emphasis on aesthetics.
We talked to Ema about her photography, travel, and shooting the seven deadly sins. Read the interview below.
You’re originally from Slovakia, you’ve worked in London, and now you’re based in Barcelona, Spain. Tell us a little about your art-making and travels, and how it’s influenced your work. Are there any artists you’ve come across along the way who have inspired your photography?
I’m a big believer in the fact that inspiration comes from not only specific people, but also tiny details that are often dismissed in our busy schedules, where we barely have time for ourselves to pay attention to things like air, the ground we walk on, or how ants interact with each other. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with many creative professionals, I can’t pinpoint a name that made a profound impact on my work ethic. However, I’ll mention a British photographer called Tim Walker whose work certainly helped me understand the unconventional possibilities within photography.
Your ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ editorial appeared in Golem Summer 2021. The photographs are highly stylised, almost like a fashion shoot illustrating the sins. What motivated you to create this work?
I was motivated by my own curiosity, research, and the need to bring them to life with coherent style and ideal models. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any professional photographs online when analysing what I was competing against. I either found over-edited commercial representations of the sins, outdated videos that weren’t directed well, or simple illustrations that didn’t resonate with me. I wanted to focus on a theme that had aged extensively yet allowed for a creative opportunity to connect with modern society. I’m not a religious person, but I find it fascinating how Christian theology speaks of seven behaviours and feelings which, when taken to an extreme, inevitably emerge into the sins we have to live with.
You’ve photographed models in Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia wearing traditional clothes, out in nature, in what seems like a secluded village setting. Can you tell us about these photographs?
Living in London gave me the chance to network and make connections, and with that I had the opportunity to either assist in or direct photoshoots myself. Not to mention that it’s easy to travel between countries in Europe; planning a road trip in a big car with everything prepared, I’ve given myself and my team the space to focus on undisturbed, makeshift locations but with perfectly arranged outcomes.
Since I was raised in a village, I was very aware of the fact that the people I chose to photograph didn’t have any modelling experience, and so further direction and consideration had to be taken into account. When shooting in rural settings, I want the result to be as authentic and real as possible, hence why I specifically don’t choose models from agencies or models with experience.
The great thing about images is that language isn’t a barrier. You can tell a story through photography. I think it was the late Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani who really harnessed the tool of storytelling through fashion photography knowing she had to compete with American Vogue. How does collaborating with a group of people to illustrate a story through photographs differ from the portraits you capture in the city?
Yes, Franca Sozzani was a determined dreamer, and most of all she believed in her creativity. Although there is so much more to be said about her career and personal life, I will divert back to your initial question. First, I need to confess that I never was, and most likely never will be, a photographer that prefers to capture people in the city over people in nature. I can direct better and focus on efficient teamwork when I’m in a location that isn’t bombarded with city sounds, polluted air, and little to no space to focus on the objectives of the story you’re trying to tell. Pressure and stress have their benefits, some say, but I’d argue that when everyone feels comfortable in a group, you’re simultaneously building a work relationship that can remain for many years to come while giving you a professional reputation every photographer practically needs. To a large extent, the main difference is the environment you work in and the individual challenges you face. In any case, no matter where you are, you need to master the ability to always remain professional yet present in both scenarios.
What projects do you have coming up in the near future?
I was afraid you wouldn’t ask! Future is a deceitful word, in many ways an illusion because it hasn’t happened yet or will never happen for some. I’ve been gradually collecting a personal body of portraits for many years now; but in comparison to the Seven Deadly Sins, this project is directly connected to my love of flower-pressing which started long before I knew I would study and practise photography. It requires me to handpick and dry flowers or plants that are then carefully glued onto my chosen models. Whether it’s spontaneous or planned shooting, the colours and shapes need to fit my models’ personality, but also produce aesthetics I’m proud of. Some of this work can be found on my website.