Everybody should be able to become a successful photographer. That’s the key motivation for Emma Svensson. She started photographing concerts 20 years ago. In a world dominated by men, nobody took her seriously, but she proved everybody wrong. She started her own website, which grew into an agency representing successful photographers, and had her own photography company that employed mostly female photographers. Even in her personal life, she pushes boundaries: by conquering the highest mountains in Europe, she proves that women can accomplish anything men can: ‘Women shouldn’t think they’re inferior to men.
She still remembers when her love for photography began: ‘When I was eleven I found my parents’ video camera. It was my favourite toy. I wanted to become a director.’ But her fellow inhabitants in the small Swedish village advised her not to pursue a career in photography because of how competitive it is. It would be hard to make a living from it. ‘So, I didn’t take any photos for years. When I went to a concert in 2002 I took a camera, and even though I’d never photographed a concert before, once I started I knew immediately that this was what I was supposed to be doing. It was love at first sight.’
The Internet was on the rise. ‘There were lots of websites with texts about music, but they didn’t have many concert photos, so I started a website. Being a female photographer in a world dominated by middle-aged men was really hard back then. No one took me seriously; they didn’t even say hello. Being a woman, I wasn’t allowed backstage where the men hung out. But I did manage to post more and more photos on my website, and I asked other young and ambitious photographers to join me.
We didn’t go unnoticed: newspapers and magazines began using our photos, and we developed into a successful agency. The old photographers hated us. For fifteen years in a row, our photographers won prizes for the best concert photographs. Some of them have become incredibly successful photographers, while others are image editors, or work for galleries. I’m proud that I played a small part in their success.’
As a teacher of photography, she noticed that although 80 percent of photography students were female, after graduating, 95 percent of the jobs in photography went to men. ‘The agents and people who were hiring were all men. I resisted this bias and tried to generate awareness about it. It brought me no end of trouble, but it was worth it. Young female photographers even thanked me for doing this. It gave them the strength to pursue their careers as photographers.’
Another life-changing event for Emma was seeing the movie Everest while on a plane. ‘I was flying to New Zealand. The film inspired me in much the same way as my first concert photos. I just knew I had to go mountain climbing. People – even my boyfriend at the time – said I shouldn’t do it. Mountain climbing is way too dangerous for women, they said. But I did it anyway. After climbing the highest mountain in Europe I knew that I wanted to keep on doing it. So I formulated a goal: to climb Europe’s highest mountains in a year. And I did. And more: I climbed 61 mountains.’
Nowadays, she divides her time between photography and mountain climbing. ‘Half of my time I’m photographing, the other half I’m in the mountains.’ She’s still confronted with a lot of prejudice: ‘Growing up as a woman, you’re conditioned to be fearful of these kinds of adventures. It’s dangerous to travel alone, to do adventurous things. I refuse to accept that. I travel to desolate places and I’ve never felt scared. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t live life to the fullest.’
She has her own studio with only female colleagues. ‘I used to employ 12 people, but with the mountain climbing, that’s a bit difficult now. So I’m back to three people: a planner, a photographer and an assistant, and I also supervise interns. When I was hiring new people, out of the 100 letters I received those written by women were the best. Being a photographer can be very lonely, so it’s nice to work in a team, respond to each other’s work and hear other opinions.’
She worked with Panasonic LUMIX cameras for the first time a year ago. ‘I tried the Panasonic LUMIX S1R. I was blown away by the quality of the images; it was revelation! When I’m climbing I use a Panasonic LUMIX GX9. I keep the camera around my neck because I would hardly use it if I kept it in my backpack, so it has to withstand quite a lot: rain, snow and being bashed against rocks. And it stills works perfectly, even after a year in really harsh conditions.’
Emma Svensson started as a photographer in 2002, photographing music artists and concerts but also established her name in the fashion photography. Next to her world record effort to climb 61 of Europe’s mountains she runs a busy studio where she employs a number of female photographers. She works towards an equal position and change for woman in photography while she is passionate to inspiring people to follow their personal dreams.