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Photographer Fee-Gloria Groenemeyer Talks Identity, Self-Reflection And The Unexpected

Fee-Gloria Grönemeyer’s journey into photography was an unplanned one, stemming from a casual appreciation of people on the everyday streets of New York. With a background in business from the University of Mannheim and New York University, she set out, armed with a trusty camera: “My main idea was to take pictures of the street and people, real people, not fashion.”

Working from New York, Paris and now based in Berlin, Fee-Gloria is a freelance photographer working with art, portraits, and fashion. Inspired by friends, her environment, new cultures, and the process behind photographing itself, she has developed her own unique style characterized by dreamy pastels and earthy tones.

After scrolling through Fee-Gloria’s insanely aesthetic feed and photographs, I was excited to get the behind the scenes low down on some of her series. We discuss identity, self-perception, and social expectations. We also reflect on her bumpy ride to being selected for Photo Vogue, the art of perseverance, and never giving up.

What inspired you to start taking photographs and lead you into a career in photography?

I started around four years ago to get into photography professionally. I lived in New York as I was doing my studies there, where I was surrounded by many creatives. Even though I was studying business, I started figuring out what I wanted to do. I picked up a camera because, for me, it was the easiest way of creatively expressing myself. I wanted to take pictures of people, real people, not at all fashion. After I finished my studies I was like OK what am I going to do with my life. I decided to take a risk and dove into photography professionally. I contacted model agencies to figure out if this was something for me. That’s kind of how I started.

So it sorts of happened a little bit like diffusion with your friends and the creativity sort of flowing from them to you.

Exactly! You could definitely say it’s the surroundings and the people that I was with that made me think about it more seriously, rather than just doing it for fun. I never thought I would make this my career at all.

So how would you describe your style of photography? Because initially, you said it started off with street photography and now it’s more and goes towards fashion.

I think it’s not necessarily just fashion. I’m trying to move a little bit away from that. It’s really difficult to say what my photography is like since it’s always changing, every idea is always different. I see something, like a cool location, something beautiful in nature or get inspired by my travels. I love being a part of a new culture and getting involved with people from different cultures artistically. I shoot a lot in Asia, especially in Thailand. I like leaving my comfort zone and always try something that I wouldn’t usually do. I take my inspiration from my surroundings, and then I create something based on them. But I try to take it to another level, adding surreal elements.

I saw in most of your images there’s a lot of fabric and some super floaty elements. Were there reasons behind that? Or was it just a material you enjoyed using?

I use a lot of masks. This goes hand-in-hand with using fabrics to cover faces for example. I like thinking about identity and who we are in a certain environment and how an environment changes the perception of one’s self. I like to give the viewer the possibility of seeing themselves in the picture. If you hide the face, you create a blank canvas, which the viewer can project themselves on.

So there is an interactive element to your photography?

Definitely. I like the idea of taking something away to add something to one’s imagination. I’d take away the face, but I give space to imagine what could be behind the mask or veil.

I think it’s interesting that so many of your works include masks, from that giant rabbit mask in Schön to the simpler white masks. Was that about giving the viewer some freedom to involve themselves more in your photography?

Yeah. I personally think a lot about who I am and what I want to say with the photos. Who am I? What is my position in the environment I live in? Who am I in my social circle? Can I change the way I am perceived through appearance? With masks, it’s just a very easy way to change an appearance. Nowadays plastic surgery is a key thing, which is in some way also like putting on a ‘mask’. I’m not into modifying my body personally, but it’s definitely something to think about and taking in what you see in society.

Do you have a favorite series or project you’d like to go back to or work on some more?

I kind of struggle with doing a series over a long period (like a year). I respect people who can do that so much because I can’t. I usually come up with a concept and then try to realize it as quickly as possible, so it’s super fresh. When I start thinking about a concept too much, I usually come up with another concept along the way, and then I discard the first concept. So, when I get an idea, I just go for it. My favorite series therefore always is my next project. You cannot change the past, but the future. I love the process of creating and coming up with ideas. So, I think my favorite project is always the one I’m working on.

I never thought about it from that point of view, but it makes a lot of sense.

It’s in this in-between space where you have an idea, you could still change it if you wanted to. There’s always this constant movement when you’re in a new project, and of course, once it’s done you’re happy like “oh this is great” or maybe you’re not happy, but that’s not the point. It’s the creation process, which is really interesting to me.

Your photos often feature mirrors and work a lot with reflections. There were large ones and also the small handheld ones. What was the thought process behind including those?

I think with the mirrors, it’s similar to the masks. A lot of photographers use mirrors aesthetically. It’s just very common in our society. When you walk down the street, if there is a storefront, you check yourself out in the window. Humans have always been obsessed with themselves. I think that’s also something I want to address in my photos, that besides talking about identity, it’s also, who are you? It’s the same idea with the mirrors.

I think it’s really interesting to get behind the scenes of all the photographs.

I mean a lot of things happen naturally on set. I do plan a whole shoot, and I have certain ideas, but you have to trust your intuition.

It’s more of an organic process?

Yes. There is a lot of parts that come with it, it’s not a straight forward process. But I usually try to find an overarching topic for a shoot and keep that in the back of my head throughout the process.

And then on a completely different note, you had your series wedding which featured two guys in some wedding dresses. When people think about wedding dresses they typically think about women and consider it something ‘feminine’. So what was the idea behind those?

It feels like the shoot was ages ago, even though its been only 2 years. I didn’t come up with the concept alone. Keon, one of the models, and I worked on it together. We wanted to show something very traditional in a modern way. So that’s when we came up with the idea to put boys into wedding dresses. What is something we expect? How can you take the expected and turn it into something unexpected or even uncomfortable for some viewers?

I was looking through your images and there’s a collection of subtle colors and its usually earthy pastel tones. Are those the colors you like or has that been a conscious decision?

I think every photographer goes through a certain process of finding their voice and finding their style. It took me a while to get there. It’s about trying and then discarding some pictures and figuring out what you like. If something doesn’t work, then try something new. I like to do styling for my shoots. So I pick clothes in colors that I personally find interesting and tried to find locations that match those colors. In the post-editing process, I like to dim down the colors. It’s always a trial and error process

Is there anything else that inspires you to photograph? Because you mentioned that sometimes it’s the location, and other times it’s a concept, and sometimes it’s the people around you.

It’s never just one thing. I know my friends usually ask me this and it’s difficult to say. I have times where I’m not inspired at all, for example. I try to get out of the house and get inspired by art in museums. As a creative sometimes you have breaks and you think “oh I don’t feel like doing anything” so you need to keep yourself motivated.

I don’t know if it’s top-secret, but are there any future projects that you’re excited about?

I mean nothing top secret, but there is a bunch of really cool projects coming up. A project that’s similar to the wedding dress shoot, which will come out in about 2 months from now. And then, of course, I’m super happy that this year I got selected for the Photo Vogue Festival. It’s just really beautiful to be appreciated for what you do. I think that’s really important.

It’s an incredible peak in a journey where you started off with Business, and I guess you never imagined that would happen?

Definitely not! But I think if it’s business or arts the same things are important. A few years ago, I actually applied [to the Photo Vogue Festival] because they do a portfolio review every year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get invited, so I started uploading my photos onto the PhotoVogue platform. I continued going with that, and then the second year I got invited to submit my work for the festival. I felt like that was a step forward. Then they invited me again this year, and I got selected! I think it’s important for people to know, that one has to be persistent to get to where you want to go. If you have a goal, to get there, you have to work on it every day.

By Raramai Campbell
Cover Photo by Fee-Gloria Groenemeyer