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"I tell stories. And stories are never one sided"

Steffanie Michela Nordahl Jakobsen

Photographer & Set designer

Copenhagen, Denmark

Why are you afraid of this interview?

I am afraid because I’ve always felt that as an artist you have a commitment to try to change the world. To focus your work on all the devastating things that are happening all around and try to do yours to make a difference.

Growing up with parents that have spent their life doing exactly that, a sister that dedicated her life to do the same and being surrounded by people that fight to make a difference everyday, it somehow feels wrong and ego centered not to do the same thing and to ask the questions that I’m about to ask myself.

Why don’t you ask an important question then?

For me the importance doesn’t lie in the question but in the stories behind it. And that is what I do. I tell stories. And stories are never one sided. A couple of years ago I realized if you do what you can’t help doing it will come out authentic and this exact authenticity can also make a difference. It is definitely not in the way I imagined I wanted to make a difference but I decided that it is the most honest way for me. Everything else would be pretentious and it would somehow fall out.

So what is your story then?

As early as I can remember I have been suffering from a severe case of imposter syndrome. An extremely low self esteem but at the same time delusions of grandeur about myself. I have never felt better than other people but I always had a gut feeling that I knew I was meant for something bigger than wandering around feeling sorry for myself and never feeling that I was living up to my own potential. This made me constantly search for perfectionism in everything I did. When my ideas were only a thing in my mind this exact imposter syndrome and perfectionism was used in a very destructive way. I struggled with OCD, anxiety which led to several eating disorders that lasted from my late teen years to my late twenties.

My whole youth was filled with symptoms of not dealing with something unredeemed, that felt like a wicked thing growing in my body. A wicked thing that I could never get rid of. I would starve myself, work out everyday, throw up after every little meal I had and continue to do so even though there was nothing left, but I kept doing it just to put a rest to the unrest.

I felt insane. I couldn’t believe this was my life. A small voice inside of me kept yelling: This can’t be it. But I shot that voice down. The only way to flee from my own insanity was to go out and drink. Drink hard. It was my break. That was the only way I could shut down my mind that was so busy destroying me. So I destroyed myself. My body became a holster for abuse and my destructive mind took over.

But the little voice kept screaming. Wouldn’t give up or give in. Somehow, even though I felt so ill in all of this chaos I managed to get into The Danish School of Media and Journalism at Photographic communication.

I had been dreaming about it for years and done everything to suppress that dream. I don’t know how or when but in this nightmare there was a turning point. The little voice that eagerly kept screaming was making me doubt my destructive behavior. In the process of creating photography I was able to utilize the wicked thing in my body and somehow it became my creative outlet.

I have always been fascinated by finding the beauty within the macabre and ordinary. I often discover a peculiar beauty in what we usually perceive as horrid and unnatural

So I started to collect and gather objects to create small still life universes inspired by years of vivid dreams and nightmares. Amongst the many artforms that inspire me I continuously find the aesthetics, lighting and symbolism of old still life also known as Nature Morte paintings intriguing. The darkness in them comforts me and I have always been fascinated by finding the beauty within the macabre and ordinary. I often discover a peculiar beauty in what we usually perceive as horrid and unnatural. Therefore I am also greatly inspired by what nature provides us and its millions species. This is probably why you will often find edibles, flowers, animals, sculptures and other objects inspired from nature in my work.

Most of my work is concentrated on making and finding these objects and surrounding them in lush settings where lighting and even the tiniest details are of great importance to create a story. But never a definit one.

It is equally comforting and disrupting to me to work within themes such as death, nature, food consumption or feeling alienated. It satisfies both me and the wicked feeling inside.

So I take it you’re not a people's person?

I do have muses that are human beings. An example is the lady who stars in my persian project. This project is inspired by - and a mixture of old school Persian royal portraits, Iran glam music, her childhood memories of traditions and family celebrations, our mutual fight for women’s liberation mixed with my visual ideas, thoughts and view on them.

When I connect with people through conversations my mind immediately creates pictures and sceneries from the stories they tell me. In my mind I start building a stage around them that incorporates these stories.

What do you wish to make people feel with your work?

Determinately I am interested in creating and portraying universes, which belong to others and myself, where the imaginary meets the authentic. Where there is room for that wicked feeling that I think lives inside most of us. I always seek to explore and create fields that are simultaneously tactile, repelling and appealing to invite the viewer into a visceral experience. As I said before I tell stories but stories are never one sided. So to me there is never a specific answer to what or why I do what I do. It is all a matter of interpretation. Most of all I just wish to make people curious.

So anyways.. are you still suffering from imposter syndrome?