10 years ago, German-born Daniel Sannwald succeeded in what probably every photography student dreams of: he was published in Dazed & Confused at the tender age of 24. Since then, the now London-based fashion photographer has made quite a name for himself, not only with his mesmerizing, colorful fashion shoots but also with album covers and music videos for Woodkid, John Legend and MIA. We had a chat with the rising star about why he still doesn’t own a single camera, why Antwerp beats London and his future aspirations.
Can you remember your very first camera?
The funny thing is, I’ve never owned a camera. I still don’t and as a photographer this is quite strange I guess. We always had cameras in the house when I was young because my father was a photographer and during my studies I used the school’s cameras or borrowed some from my friends. And today I still do that.
You’ve never had the urge to buy your own?
I’ve always found it interesting to find the right camera for the right project. There are so many different models out there. I still experiment a lot.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a professional photographer? Did your father have something to do with that?
My father died when I was seven, so I don’t think it had much to do with that. The first time I really knew I wanted to be a photographer was when I started my art studies at the Academy in Antwerp.
What did you find so appealing about photography?
Good question. Originally I wanted to be a filmmaker. I thought it was a good idea to start out with photography and then maybe do film later. But today photographers have to work a lot with moving pictures too, something I obviously embrace.
What about your fashion affinity? Could that have something to do with your time in Antwerp, a veritable fashion city?
Definitely. But I have always been somewhat interested in fashion, even though in the beginning I didn’t really do typical fashion photography. I was fascinated by it and especially by what was happening in Antwerp. I like the really conceptual stuff.
Sounds like the time in Belgium had quite an impact on you and your work?
Absolutely. My visual language and visual understanding really evolved during my time in Antwerp.
01/09 - Woodkid, The Golden Age Cover
02/09 - Patrik Ervell SS14 Ad Campaign
03/09 - Sigrid Agren, Pop Magazine
04/09 - Editorial, Vogue Russia
05/09 - Sam Rollinson, i-D Magazine
06/09 - Karlie Kloss, Le Monde Magazine
07/09 - M.I.A., Cover
08/09 - David Hallberg, The Document Journal
09/09 - Jeneil Williams, Pop Magazine
What inspired and influenced you there?
Being in a school where you are surrounded by people who share the same interests is very inspirational.
How do you make the step from being a student to suddenly being published in major international magazines like Dazed & Confused?
From the start I always tried to look for opportunities outside of school. I was rather courageous and also tried to motivate other students to do exhibitions or get published. I wrote to every single magazine I could think of - Dazed & Confused being one of them. It must have been really perfect timing because two hours later their creative director Nicola Formichetti contacted me and said ‘Hey, let’s do something!’
Did this opportunity have quite an impact on the course of your career?
It was the first time my work was published in a magazine, which was rather important. i-D published me right after that. Nicola really opened a few doors for me.
Do you know why he chose you? He must get so many requests from photographers…
Ha ha, I don’t know; you’d have to ask him. At the time I was into hand-written letters, something I still like doing. I always made it very personal, adding some of my works and also concepts for future projects.
Do you see yourself as a photographer or rather a visual artist?
I would call myself an image-maker. I’m not really an artist because when it comes to fashion I’m not completely free. I work with a team and with certain preset requirements. I don’t really see it as art.
What makes you prouder: getting an exhibition or scoring a fashion shoot for a major magazine?
I enjoy working in fashion the most. Maybe in a few years I’ll have time again for some more personal projects.
I wrote to every single magazine I could think of - Dazed & Confused being one of them. It must have been really perfect timing because two hours later their creative director Nicola Formichetti contacted me and said ‘Hey, let’s do something!’Daniel Sannwald
You already mentioned that there are some restrictions when shooting for a magazine – how much freedom do you have?
It completely depends on the magazine. When you work for Vogue or a very commercial magazine, then the guidelines are quite strict. But magazines like Pop or i-D give you a lot of creative freedom, meaning you sit down with the stylist and develop the concept together.
I recently spoke to Serge Leblon who complained about the downfall of fashion photography, which in his opinion lacks originality and freedom. What is your stance on the subject?
I am a big fan of Serge. It is true that there is a constant image flow now and many photographers actually become curators in a way, taking up ideas from the past and combining them in a new way, which I also find fascinating. But I have to agree with him that it is great to discover works that are unique and original. I recently did a fashion shoot for a magazine in New York where the whole fashion and PR team were on set ensuring that the outfits were visible, that there weren’t too many shadows on the prints…I recently spoke to Patti Wilson, a stylist, and she also said that freedom is shrinking because you have to pay a lot of attention to fitting in all the demanded fashion credits.
In your work you use a lot of technical and graphical effects – are you a computer nerd?
I do a lot by hand. Many things look like they were done digitally, but in reality they are the results of a broken scanner or a very old cell phone. I wouldn’t call myself a computer nerd.
You made an album cover for Woodkid and music videos for John Legend and MIA – how did that happen? Does music play an important role in your life?
Woodkid was the first collaboration I did with a musician. He contacted me saying he liked my work and that he could imagine doing something together. And it’s thanks to him that I got to make my first music video. As you know he’s also a director and when he didn’t have the time to make the video for John Legend he passed the job on to me - very nice of him.
Had you ever done something like that before or did you have to plunge in at the deep end?
I just had to plunge in. My boyfriend is a musician, so I’m not completely clueless when it comes to the music world, but I had never worked with a musician before. It was actually more exciting than working with models. You have much more freedom. It was a lot of fun.
How difficult was it to work with moving pictures all of a sudden?
Not easy. It’s very different. You have to consider so many things at the same time: there’s the sound; the timing is different… But the end result is almost stronger than still images. And it’s exciting to see the hits accumulate on YouTube for example. It’s great to think about how many different people you can reach this way. The John Legend video collected millions of views.
What’s currently on your iPod?
I listen to my boyfriend’s music of course, Arca. And a lot of hip-hop!
Which other photographers do you admire?
Erwin Blumenfeld has always been a great inspiration and someone I admire very much. I also really like Tyrone Lebon and Jamie Hawkesworth. They are part of a new generation of photographers and fascinating.
How would you explain your approach to photography?
It makes me think of Andy Warhol’s factory. I’m a quite spontaneous worker and bring a lot of tools with me like different cameras and scanners and a lot happens on set. It’s so much fun. I do plan a little bit beforehand but you never really know what’s going to happen on set.
You have already accomplished a lot – do you still have dreams and goals?
I have a meeting coming up with American Vogue, something I’m really looking forward to. I’d also love to do more music videos and one day a whole movie.
Are you a real film buff then? Do you watch a lot of movies?
I used to, but now I don’t have much time anymore and often I’m too exhausted to watch anything. I watch a lot of movies on the plane and a lot of documentaries. Documentaries really are my favorites.
What are your top 3 movies of all time?
Metropolis by Fritz Lang, Solaris by Tarkovsky and Les Amants du Pont- Neuf.
Antwerp or London?
Antwerp. I was just there again for New Year’s and the quality of life there is great. Somehow everyone has time to enjoy the beautiful things in life and everyone invests a lot in how they live, the apartments are gorgeous, people take time to cook…in London this is all a bit different. I love London, but if I had to decide, I’d go for Antwerp.
Analogue or digital?
Colour or black and white?
Color. Earlier I did a lot in black and white but I just love color more and more.
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