Simone Steenberg explores female energy, beauty and power through her subject, her grandma Eva
The Garden of Eva series is a celebration of older years, channelling the photographer’s passions for performance art and fashion through a fun shoot that reveals her grandma’s nuanced personality.
- Jenny Brewer
- 30 September 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Danish art and fashion photographer Simone Steenberg describes her approach to taking portraits as “conversational,” a mindset that invites intimacy, trust and sharing. “Like a sacred exchange,” she says. So far this has involved friends and models alike, but her series The Garden of Eva is especially personal, focusing on her 87-year-old grandmother. “It was just the two of us, getting to know each other in a special way outside the usual family context, testing each other’s boundaries, while manifesting new memories together,” Simone describes of the shoot. Playful, tender, and revealing of Eva’s sense of humour and effortless chic, the images also give a glimpse into the relationship between photographer and subject, granddaughter and grandma.
“They are about a mutual performance in front and behind the camera,” Simone says. “My grandma picked most of her outfits, and we discussed a few different scenes, then just had fun capturing moments by instinct and fostering a symbiotic imagination.”
Simone used to be a dancer and an athlete, hence movement and rhythm play an important role in her photography. “If something becomes too static I get anxious,” she adds. She grew up fascinated by female avant-garde filmmakers such as Maya Deren and Vera Chytilova, drawn by their “subtle confrontations with life and society, presenting new beauty ideals and surreal imagery.” She also finds inspiration in 70s feminist performance art by the likes of Hannah Wilke, Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneeman, Joan Jonas, and Valie Export, who Simone says created “radical and empowering” work that informs her own practice. Shooting mainly with analogue, both medium format and 35mm, Simone says the process of learning photography through film and experiments in the darkroom gave her an understanding of light and colour. All this has influenced her aesthetic, and is exemplified in The Garden of Eva, as are her motivations for the choice of subject matter – a fascination with women’s energy, beauty, vulnerabilities and power.
“With my images, I want to tell [women’s] stories and hopefully create empowering photography that touches, inspires, and brings people a sense of curiosity and joy.”
In The Garden of Eva, Simone speaks to a prevalent narrative around women’s fear of getting older and the hunt for eternal youth, and how her portraits set out to subvert ideals and stereotypes by celebrating the beauty of ageing. “I wanted to photograph my grandma for a long time, but I was waiting for the right moment,” Simone explains. This came during the pandemic, after Eva had been living in isolation in her summerhouse in northern Denmark for four months and the photographer was finally allowed to see her. It seems especially poignant that Eva worked for over 40 years as a nurse for the Danish healthcare system.
Hence the shots see 87-year-old Eva in her house and garden set in the Danish countryside, amid her flowers and plants, with her car, on her hammock, and at the seaside, depicting the subtle nuances of her personality through her expressions and poses. “I was amazed by how confident Eva felt, allowing herself to be vulnerable, curious and explored in new ways,” Simone remembers.
“My grandma has a great sense of style,” she continues, describing the outfits she dug out, packed with pattern and colour, some garments dating back as far as the 50s. “And she still wears them in the same elegant way. “I think this is particularly important for younger generations to take notice of, as we live in a fast consumer culture, and fashion trends are changing all the time. I think it is fascinating how long Eva has had some of her pieces, and they all hold so much history and tales entangled in them.” She quotes her grandma as saying that “With fashion, it is essential to be able to carry clothes with a straight back no matter one's age, and not crawl along the wall”. On the subject of beauty, Eva says: “I don't mind wrinkles, it’s part of who I am, it’s about letting the character of the person and inner beauty shine through. It is also important not to take oneself too seriously but instead keep some humour and accept one’s flaws.”
Simone describes her photographic style as combining “rawness and magic realism,” with Eva’s portraits hinting at topics around the inner child, nature, memory and intimacy. Some images have heart-warming humour, others feature stunning compositions and delicate, sunkissed lighting, and some are more casual snapshots, which all add up to give a deep, rich insight to Eva’s character, and their close relationship. “My grandma is a Gemini, she’s very entertaining. She lived through Nazi-occupation, she was part of the women’s liberation, now she has adapted to the 21st Century, using an iPad. I think that is pretty cool,” Simone concludes. “I’m proud we were able to open new doors where we could get to know each other even more, as well as appreciate the phenomena of ageing as something both inevitable and inherently beautiful.”