I was assigned to shoot the singer and performer Sofia Jannok  for the Swedish magazine Filter. When I called to decide time and place, I noticed she was pissed off. The magazine had suggested a picture of her dressed in something Sami, posing in a winter landscape. That had annoyed her. I was a bit confused. Almost every picture I had seen of her looks exactly like the one the magazine had imagined.  The request made sense. But when she explained I understood her frustration. Almost every time she appears in the media, she told me, people want to see the exotic Sami artist. Snow. Traditional costume. Reindeers. Yes, she’s Sami and she’s proud of it, but she has a bunch of other identities too. The important thing for her is to be able to choose. Not to be labeled.

We decided to do something really plain. Studio and b/w. She chose a white leather jacket and some of her impressive silver jewelry. During the shoot we tried some pictures without the jacket and at one point I took some shots in profile.  Suddenly she said she felt like her ancestors, those who were forced to pose nude in profile in front of the cameras of the race biologists. Oh god that’s terrible, I said, lets do something else!

But then we agreed that this nasty reference actually might give the image some substance.  Provided that she’s in control, it may give her a chance to take that image back. To fill it with her own pride and new meaning.

This kind of co-operation is something I really enjoy. One essential skill a photographer must have is to be open and try to see beyond the first impressions of things. If you don’t you will only reproduce narrow-minded images of people. You have to admit that your ignorance might have consequences and that you have a powerful tool in your hand. Learning from the people you meet is really the beauty of being a photographer.

Sofia Jannok. Photo: Elin Berge