There are so many incredible images on 500px but we want to know more about the photographers, and stories, behind them. Our Portrait series interviews a talented photographer each week, allowing us to discover more about living life through a lens.
This week's interview is with flower photographer Magda Indigo.
When and how did you fall in love with photography?
It goes as far back as I can remember. My family, grand-parents, parents, they all had cameras, used them all the time, and let me have a go... I grew up with it; the lens became an 'extensional' vision tool.
I studied the classics, which took me into the Arts; I studied Art History.
I devoted almost 20 years bringing up my children, of course photographing them all the time, got back into painting, exhibited till I discovered what a corrupt, money-based world that was!
I grabbed my camera more and more! This is definitely the best medium for me to express myself, my emotions.
Have you had any formal training?
Whilst living in Holland, I went on a course. It was interesting and great to learn to work in the darkroom, but ultimately I did not learn much about making creative images. I don't think my kind of creativity is something you can learn. Not sure where it comes from exactly but to be creative for me is not really a choice. I can't live without it. It is both my soul-food and a certain madness they like to call 'passion'.
Then I met Paul, my husband, who had studied at university under the wing of one of South Africa's best photographers. Paul's the greatest teacher, inspirational and with honest, objective and constructive criticism! A dream come true for any creative! He was also the best wet-darkroom printer; he created magic. I use it in the past tense because of digital photography.
You say on your profile that you don't share your professional work on 500px, please can you tell us a little more about what you do professionally?
My professional work has involved everything from working with the BBC, the Ministry of Defence to campaigns for ad agencies, magazines, publishers, fashion, art-works, portraits and weddings (many of them Muslim!) I've photographed well known people such as Bill Clinton, Amitabh Bachchan, Michael Palin, Willem Vermandere and others. I'm now in the fortunate position of being able to rely more on sales of my own creative, photography, which I want to focus on rather than on commissioned work.
Who or what inspires your work?
I'm fiercely independent, individualist and intuitive and don't really study other professional photographers' work. I can appreciate good photographers. My inspiration is nature and people, and a love of life and beauty. I've often said, 'I don't talk to flowers, they talk to me.' I try to let nature's beauty speak to me and then show what I see to the world.
How did you arrive at your very distinctive black-background photography style?
Interesting question! In Flanders, where I grew up, most of the houses in the country-side used to be painted white, except for the bottom meter, which was tarred black... often a flower-border would sit against it. That was my inspiration. I wrote a blog post about the flower photography here. I moved the idea on from oils on canvas to soft pastels on black, from there to the studio-photography.
As photography is all about light, I wanted to learn; dived into the studio as often as possible, photographing anything, and one day, that was a flower. I was hooked. I knew flowers, the variation is so stunning, colour, shape, texture, it has it all. Days, nights, no time for food or drink or sleep, many different cameras, lenses, lights and plenty of flowers.
Everything has to 'wait' until I have the desired 'result'. There is mental and emotional nourishment, great satisfaction or sometimes enormous frustration at my inability and shortcomings. I don't always win!
For years I experimented in the studio, to get that Flemish painter's light. Well, I was born in Flanders; it must be in my blood. That was where the art studies came in; I had thought it boring at the time, composition and shadows' the 'rules'! You have to know them' then, you can break them, in a creative way.
Nowadays you see many images with a black background but it's something that I have always done. It's been 'my signature' for so long! Back in the days when I used oils, pastels (on black velvet paper!) and water colour as my medium, I often applied colour on a black background. It's something I've always done because I think there's purity in the way it brings out a subject and particularly its colours. I love colour, although I do shoot quite a bit of black and white too, where the focus changes to shapes and textures more.
What camera/s do you shoot with?
To me, cameras are just wonderful tools! It is the photographer, behind the camera who makes the photo! Give me any camera and I'll do you the job, that's a fact not a boast, been there, worn the T-shirt!
In choosing a camera, I have to like the 'feel' of it; after all, we'll have to be best friends! We've gathered a huge collection of cameras over the years and I shoot with whatever I feel suits the subject. I like my Hasselblads and my Nikons. I loved my Nikon F4s (film), did not get on with the D70 nor the D90, but I learned to work 'digi' with them; loved the D200. At the moment my main camera is a Nikon D7000.
Overall I like to keep things simple and lightweight. When I go out on a shoot I usually take one camera and a single zoom lens with a nice range. Equipment should never get in the way of getting the shot.
And your favourite lens?
Always loved 18-200mm because it gives me the full range that I generally need in one lens; it now is the AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm. For studio work I like my trusty Nikkor 60mm Micro lens. In the days of film I used to shoot with a 4x5' technical camera and a Rodenstock 180mm standard lens, which was super sharp.
How about other equipment needed to get shots like this' Lighting, tripod, filters etc.?
For my flowers the background is black velvet. I'm not keen on flash and favour continuous light. The light sources can be very diverse and I like experimenting and shaping the light using reflectors and cutters. No filters, can't stand them, many tripods, Manfrottos, Gizo etc...
I have been photographing for so long, so many different cameras, I must admit I hardly look at data, I set my camera at what I want at that particular moment for that specific shot. I know what I want from an image, if I want much depth of field I'll use a small aperture, if not a large one... and out it comes! Each image unique.
Use whatever is at hand! Be creative!
How important is post-processing to the end result; I see some have no photo manipulation whatsoever?
I am a purist and I respect photography so much. The scientists have worked for over a century to give us crisp, sharp images, the best lenses and look what happens: people go for blurred and scratched effects on images!
Generally I like to get things right in camera. Having said that, I do work for hours on each image, cleaning it up (because velvet and flowers get dusty!) and enhancing it subtly in Photoshop. Nature does such a brilliant job, who am I to mess with it?
How do you get your work out there? Was there any avenue in particular that led to your photographs becoming book covers?
I was 'discovered'! Other than publish my work online, I've not really pushed it out. Publishers and agencies find my work, word of mouth is great and they come to me, which is wonderful. Book designers have found my work suits what they are looking for: strong powerful eye-catching images of immaculate quality. The cover of a book is extremely important. It's got to stand out on the shelf and shout, 'pick me up!' I've been told that the beauty, creativity and fresh style of my images is what makes them stand out. The flowers I shoot sometimes have blemishes, a hole in a petal, they're real, edgy and not a cliché. There's a tension, intrigue, a story perhaps and, above all, a strong sense of reality and individuality.
What advice would you give to amateur photographers?
All I can say is experiment, experiment, experiment... the camera, the lens, other people's EXIF data are irrelevant, because each subject, the material, circumstances, light source is different. Make it your own!
Learn from every mistake you make. Do you think I've stopped learning' I probably work harder at it than most, trying out different, new light settings and techniques constantly.
Never upload an image that is not 100%. Treat each site as you would a gallery, because that is what it is, you put up an exhibition! People come, visit and judge!
Accept that not everybody is going to like your work, just like you don't like all of theirs.'Your ideas also aren't always understood, but when they are, you'll get a compliment that will touch you deeply. And last but most important: have fun, enjoy it!
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
When someone wrote to me: 'I do not like flower photography, but, what you do with them is so amazing. You made me change my mind.'
And: "Beauty" is your work Magda. More important than you being a genius, is the fact that you are such a beautiful person, who spreads and shares so charming and warm and positive energy. Got only to say thanks for all that :)'
Also: 'You continue to inspire me and bring beauty and light into my days, for that I thank you!'
If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
Actually, I've done it. For a long time I wanted to photograph Willem Vermandere, a very famous Flemish Artist. Five years back I gathered all my courage, wrote and asked' we've been friends ever since with him and his family, seeing each other regularly and with great joy! Also, to photograph from, and on, the bridge of a Ferry... done! Lesson: don't ask, don't get!
Just so we can find out a bit more about the person behind the lens, could you tell me 5 things about you that are completely unrelated to photography?
What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
That I may never lose my creativity, keep 'inspiring' people, live in peace with those I love. To keep producing beautiful images, continue to learn in these technically exciting times, and sell all over the world.
Thanks to Magda for being interviewed and to you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment below, feedback is awesome!