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Greif Alumni: Q&A with Henriette Sabroe Ebbesen


We periodically invite our alumni, artists we have featured in the past, to share their new work and projects with us. Henriette Sabroe Ebbesen’s work was initially showcased in our Issue 12, titled "Blame the Algorithm — Broomberg & Chanarin". Furthermore, her work was displayed in our Guest Room curated by Monica Allende around the theme "Post HomoSapiens” in 2018. Henriette Sabroe Ebbesen is an autodidact photographer and film director from Copenhagen, Denmark. Formally educated as a Medical Doctor, Ebbesen is interested in the intersection between science and art. Her artworks are small science experiments on how the human body, psyche and world in general can be visualized and interpreted, depending on the mind and eyes of the beholder. Ebbesen works with reflections to create surreal effects in her work: "In my work I aim to play with the sense of reality that we relate to the photograph by distorting the objects and space within the picture frame. With these effects I aim to surprise and confuse and leave one with the question of what is real." Conceptually her works often deal with identity and the subconscious self affected by and interrelated to the surrounding world. We caught up with Ebbesen to talk about her recent projects.

Der Greif: Hi Henriette, thanks for talking with us. Perhaps you can briefly walk us through what you have been up to since your work was published in Guest Room.

I believe it has been a while, so I have been up to many different projects since then. My work “Self Reflection”, which was featured both in the Guest Room curated by Monica Allende as well as Der Greif Issue 12, is part of the series “Feminine Development” which I have been working on for several years. Since then, many more images have been added to the series and I have been working on other projects alongside, such as fashion films and self-portraits. My works were also exhibited in many other places and shown in different photography and fashion film festivals.

Der Greif: You were recently nominated to be a part of the New York City International Fashion Film Festival. Can you talk about what this means for you?

Being nominated for this festival means a lot to me. The other nominated films look fantastic, so I'm thrilled to be in such great company. I would love to create more art and fashion films, so hopefully, more people from the industry will see my work and be interested in collaborating on new projects in the future.

Der Greif: Your work primarily focuses on reflections. Can you tell us about how you developed your distinct style?

I was working with painting prior to going into photography, so in the beginning, I was experimenting with how to use photography as a painting tool. My style came from experimenting with different tools and trying to create a painterisque look in my photographic work. Mirrors fascinated me a lot because they allowed me to create this effect and I could play with optical illusions. I aim for my work to prompt a second glance, encouraging viewers to reconsider how it was crafted. In this regard, I think photography is a more interesting medium than painting, because it has a much closer relationship with reality. Many people think my work is photoshopped, but the effects are actually created when I push the shutter.

Der Greif: I’m sure many of our community members would be interested to know how you balance your commercial and personal work.

I would say that all my work is personal, even when collaborating with commercial clients, as I really try to show my personal style in everything I create. I think it’s fun to work with commercial clients as sometimes more possibilities come with bigger budgets. However, I’m careful only to work with clients and projects that I think could be an extension of my artwork and feel aligned with my personal style.

Der Greif: You also often feature in your photographs yourself. Can you walk us through what the self-portrait process looks like for you?

I recently started creating a new series of self-portraits and I think I finally cracked the code on how to put myself into my work more literally speaking. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but because I need to be able to see through the lens and hold the mirrors when I use them for my effects, I hadn't figured out a way to be in front of the lens before now. I finally got the idea to experiment with distortions through a fisheye lens, which solved my problem. Usually, I scout for an interesting location in the outdoor landscape and just bring myself and a camera. Many times, I also had my boyfriend or a friend assist me by holding the camera while I directed them during the shoot.

Der Greif: What is one challenge you’ve had to face in your photographic career and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge has been the constant struggle of being stuck between two different career paths and how to balance the two. I’m still working on a way to juggle the two, but it has become easier with time. When I have taken time off my medical career I have worked on new projects within my photographic career, and when I have had to make more commitment in my medical career, I usually work on connections and exhibitions within my photographic career. This has been really stressful at times, so I’m now trying to learn how to not do everything at the same time and that it’s also ok to take a break once in a while.

Der Greif: Can you tell us what collaboration means in your practice?

I love to collaborate with other creative people who have different skills than me. I think I learn a lot from other creatives when creating projects like fashion films or editorial projects where I have worked with designers, stylists, dancers and film photographers amongst others. It’s like we all speak the same creative language, but with different outlets depending on our skill sets. It’s inspiring to work with other talented people and learn new ways of working from one another.

Der Greif: Do you have any advice to give to photographers who are just starting their artistic journey?

Just begin to work. Work with the equipment you have available and work on something that feels interesting to you. The best advice I have been given is that when you find yourself working on something that looks different than everyone else’s work, you are on the right track. You need to experiment to keep searching for your own path and when you find it, just keep producing. I also recommend submitting your work to photography competitions and exhibitions. Personally, I learned a lot from using the PhotoVogue platform, where you can submit work to have it reviewed by the editors every Monday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Der Greif: Lastly, can you tell our community what's next for your practice?

My next project is to publish a study that I did on creativity and mental illness. Some studies have shown that the genes that can lead to creativity can also lead to mental illness. If you possess this set of genes and haven't experienced a significant manifestation of mental illness, or if your condition is relatively mild, you statistically exhibit a higher level of creativity compared to the broader population. On the contrary, people with severe mental illness may be so severely affected by their disorder that they are not able to be creative. It seems like there is a sweet spot where your demons may also be your blessings. For the article, my research partner and I interviewed ten different artists and we hope to add something new to this theory. When the article has been published in a scientific magazine I would love for it to have a more creative outlet as well. I’m thinking of publishing a book that shows both my research and art demonstrating the link between the two.