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Sonja Hesslow: Photographer of the week

by Yvette Depaepe
Published the 5th of October 2020


'Detail Secluded'


Sonja Hesslow  likes to describe her work as surrealistic. She loves to  create a world that doesn’t exist.
A small world with small people that incorporates nature. A parallel world to ours even though it is obvious that it is a fantasy world. She works alone, uses props and often is her own model. 
Sonja wants her images perfect and works hard on them creating about 8 à 10 new works over a year.
Let your own fantasy be triggered by Sonja's surreal world and read more about this fine artist.


'Oändlighetens näste'


My name is Sonja Hesslow and I was born in 1988 in Sweden. I grow up in a big family with 6 brothers and sisters and my father and mother. I believe that it has affected my creativity in some positive ways. Because we were a big family we couldn’t afford to go abroad, instead we spent our whole summer holidays in our summerhouse. I remember how we figured out to make boats of grass floating in the sea.  We made theatres, we wrote children books and we had the whole forest to play in.

I think that I learnt how to notice all the things surrounding me to use my imagination and to create something out of it. Today I use to find new ideas when I walk in the forest, when I see a flower or when I hear a song. Then my brain cannot stop thinking before a new idea emerge.




I always have been very creative and loved to create things with my hands.
I am a control freak and really want to be the author of my own process.
If I need some props, I start to ask myself if it is possible to make them by myself.
I am almost always my own model in my pictures.
I use a remote control to take selfies.  I make all my retouches and in the end I spend a lot of time getting the perfect print. I want to be 100% satisfied and I want people to see that it is my creation.


'My secret friend and I'


As long as I remember, I  documented my life with a small camera, but it was when I figured out how to manipulate the pictures in Photoshop that I realised the need to spend more of my time being a photographer.

The first manipulated pictures that I saw were from the Swedish photographer Erik Johansson. They were stunning!  It was end of 2009 and I immediatly bought my first real camera. In daytime, I was working in the kindergarten and was spending the rest of my time photographing. It didn't take long to reallise that it was impossible to continue like that because all I wanted was to photograph and edit pictures.

In the autumn 2010 I started to study photography in Medieskolerne, Media College in Denmark.
Finally I could focus 100% of what I loved the most. I spent all my evenings and weekends photographing in the black box or in front of my computer using Photoshop. I learnt to speak Danish and my new Icelandic friend Magnus Andersen learnt me all about Photoshop. Nothing could stop me anymore!










During my studies (4,5 years)  I spent 3 years assisting different photographers.
I started in a portrait studio where we photographed babies all day long.  After 6 month I figured out that  portraiture was not what I wanted to do.

After that I met Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer, two amazing artistic photographers. I assisted them and learned a lot. I am grateful they showed me their world. It was something different to everything else I had seen before.  Maybe the most important thing I learnt from them was that it is possible to make whatever you want, and how important it is to make it in your own way.

Finally, I spent a year at a big agency making pictures for famous brands.  It was also inspiring and I learnt a lot, but still this was nothing for me.




In 2014, I had my first real exhibition and it was a dream which came true.
It was at an art fair and my pictures were some of the most popular, I sold a lot of them.
So the year after when I finished school I decided to work full time making my own pictures. It was really hard!  I realised that all I wanted was to create my own work and not making pictures for other people.
It was really difficult to earn enough money with art to make a living of it. I struggled for a year before I chose to change focus for a while.

I got pregnant from my daughter and that too was a dream coming true. I stepped away from photography during my pregnancy and earned money with other stuff to prepare my daughter's arrival. 
I staid home after her birth for 14 months and when I went back to work it was too scary to re-start my  insecure self-employee work.

So I started as an in-house photographer at Coop (a food company). I made some creative posters but mostly pack shots. It was nice with a fixed salary but I missed more and more being creative and working for mysel A while later I got pregnant from my second child.
One day during my second pregnancy a guy called me. He told me that he was a publisher and he wanted to cooperate with me. In two month I made three new pictures for him. They were my first pictures in 2,5 years and it was an important turning point in my life! I got my son and the first 8 months I was home with him.

After that I decided to quit my job as an in-house photographer and just try my wings doing what I love the most, creating my own pictures. The first of  October,  I will move into a new studio together with my Icelandic friend from school. It is a huge dream coming true this time!

Today I spent all my days working for myself and my publisher is spending his time selling my pictures. I really hope that I can continue to make pictures, organize exhibitions and sell my artwork.
I'm hoping to sell more of my work abroad and have exhibitions around the world.


'Believe in your dreams'


I would describe my work as surrealistic. 
I like to create a world that doesn’t exist. 
A small world with small people that incorporates nature.
A parallel world to ours.

I want my pictures to look realistic even though it is obvious that it is a fantasy world.
It is really important to make realistic shadows and make sure the light is the same of every part that I put together in the picture. I spend a lot of time on every picture and make around 8-10 new pictures in a year.


'Lights by night I'



'Lights by night II'



'Lights by night III'


For me it is important that it is not too complicated to photograph.
I use small flashes and I don't need any assistance. 
I want to be in my own creative space when I am making pictures.
I don’t want anyone to disturb.

Often I don’t use flash at all, instead I use a method called “light painting”.
I put my camera (Canon EOS R) on a tripod. Then I turn off all lights in the room and put the shutter time to around 30 seconds. After that I start to “paint” the object with a flash light.

Many years ago I studied analogue photography and I really loved the moment when you could see the picture emerging in the developing fluid. It was like magic and you never knew how the picture would turn out.  It is a little same feeling when you light paint because all exposures are different and it is impossible to make two exposures that are identical. I think it is an artwork and I really enjoy using my flash light in the dark. Sometimes I have a clear picture in my head of how I want it to look like, but sometimes I just figure it out during the process.


'I will wait for you'


I am totally uninterested in technical things. I just want tools to work with.
As I said earlier, the simpler the better!
Of course I need a good camera for example to make it possible to make big prints. 

Today I think it is more important than ever to be unique because everyone has a phone camera.
I think that you should stop listening to what everyone else is thinking of your pictures and go your own way. Of course it can be important to discuss a picture with someone else to discover new angels and make it even better,  but it is important to choose the right people that can give you constructive criticism.
You can always be inspired by other photographers or artists but don’t be a copycat, it is quite boring to be number 2 :)


'Hope in the dark'



Gravity I



Gravity II


Best regards and thanks for your interest in my work
Sonja Hesslow

instagram @sonjahesslowphotography

Wow! Such a relief to see your beautiful photos along with your very open and honest story.
Very interesting to read her story. Thank you very much for sharing. Also really enjoyed the photos.
Excellent images Sonja. Well done .
Well done Yvette, for bringing yet another fascinating insight into a photographer I was unaware of. Sonja's story of achieving her own vision and having the strength of mind and purpose to forge her own path of originality is a superb example to us all. Bravo!
Thanks for your appreciation, Peter! As head editor, it is one of my favourite activities to discover talented 1x members and to put them in the spotlights. Sonja's work is so original, so beautiful.
Amazing and inspiring work. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
absolutely charming work - love it
Congratulations with the well deserved feature of Photographer of the week, dear Sonja. Your work is so unique and exquisite. Thanks for your fine collaboration to make this interview looking so good. Cheers, yvette