Greta Tu is an eighteen year old photographer. Despite her young age, she has a whole lot of talent! Greta was born in Lithuania, but is currently located in Aalborg, Denmark. She began experimenting with photography at the age of eleven, and since then it’s been her greatest passion — and it shows. Greta was the Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2011 (Highly Commended), and won the SNAPSHOT Teenagers International Photographic Prize. Her work has been seen all over the web but has also been featured in magazines such as Token Art Magazine, PhotoVogue Italia, Golden Age Magazine, and many more.
So come on! Learn about Greta with us as she speaks of her life, her yearnings, and become captivated with her portraiture, as I have been many times before.
Note: Some imagery seen in this interview is considered NSFW
How did you become interested in photography?
I think my interest in photography started when I received a point-and-shoot camera at the age of eleven. I could spend days after days photographing sea shells by the window. I have to admit; luckily a few things have happened since then… I remember having my first photo shoot with a model and make-up artist at the age of thirteen. When I look back it seems so early, however it felt completely natural at that point of time. Photography was simply not one of these fleeting hobbies that bore you after a year. I actually don’t consider myself as creative at all. I can’t sing, play an instrument, paint, draw, sew or anything like that. Photography was basically my thing, which I was really lucky to realize quite early.
What’s on your gear list?
I shoot with my Canon 5d MK II, which I absolutely love. It has all the features I need as a photographer. I mostly use 24-70 mm and 50 mm for portraiture and 18-36 mm and 70-200 mm for landscapes and traveling. I have also shot with film a few times, because I really admire photographers who can make absolutely outstanding photos in that way, but digital photography has mainly been my thing. I was born in the digital age. My light equipment is mostly from Elinchrom and I always use Photoshop for editing.
Is there a piece of equipment that you just can’t live without? (besides your camera! :P)
Besides my camera, no, I am actually not that dependent on other kinds of equipment. I enjoy working with studio lights from time to time and shooting long exposure shots with a tripod, however it is not necessary. All I need is basically a camera.
What type of photography do you enjoy the most? (why?)
Definitely portraiture and travel photography. I am always really eager about shooting new and interesting portraits! I absolutely love unique features as for instance a dazzling eye-color, freckles or special facial contours. Travel photography is something completely different, however I really enjoy it. You have to portray a certain atmosphere and a certain place. It always fills me with inspiration!
What is the favourite photo you’ve ever taken? Why?
That is a really tough one. I think I would have to say a photograph from the top of Kilimanjaro (see below). An early sunrise seen from the world’s highest freestanding mountain. After six days of hiking we finally reached the summit and the moment was worth it all. It cannot be described with words: It was divine; everything made perfect sense while tears ran down my cheeks in the cold air.
What inspires you?
Besides traveling and foreign places, I am mostly inspired by people. I love portraying certain subjects visually. Moreover, I am very inspired by universes created by authors. Lately I have been extremely fascinated by Haruki Murakami. Besides that artists like Nirrimi Firebrace, Hedi Slimane, Michael Kvium and Tim Burton are a never-ending source of inspiration and creative ideas!
What do you do in your free time when you’re not behind the lens?
Playing tennis, spending time with my best friends, cooking, reading books, swimming in lakes and drinking good coffee.
Have you had any formal training in photography?
I have never studied photography, taken any courses or anything similar. My first years as a “photographer” are far from pretty. However it is still a period of time that was extremely important and filled with weird experiments. My father taught me the basics, but I am mostly self-taught – learning by doing. Of course it has negative aspects, but I would say it is mainly positive. I am glad that my style is “untouched” and I had the opportunity to explore and create my own approach to photography.
Does a lot of editing go into your portraiture?
It varies a lot. Mostly not. I like to obtain a good result on location and only refine the images later on.
Could we see a before and after from one of your photos?
Sure, here is one example. As you can see, I have worked a lot with colors, light and contrast.
What is your proudest moment as a photographer?
Tough one! I think I would have to say at my first exhibition ever. My photo had won a Highly Commended prize in Environmental Photographer of the Year 2012 and there was an exhibition in London. I went there with my father. When I saw my own photo in this absolutely beautiful gallery among other stunning pieces, I was extremely proud. A few people were discussing and looking at the photo. My father and I approached, and they assumed that my father was the photographer. They were quite surprised!
You seem to have a knack for capturing beautiful portraits and working with models. Do you have any advice for photographer’s beginning to work with models for the first time?
Don’t rush. Earlier I had a tendency to hurry a lot while shooting. Perhaps I felt I was wasting the model’s time and wanted to make the most of it. I simply felt obliged to shoot every single pose, no matter I liked it or not. My best advice is to trust yourself and don’t be afraid to change something, if you don’t think it is working out. You are the photographer. Moreover, the model will most likely be happy to receive some criticism in order to create extraordinary images.
Your works have a maturity to them, yet you are only 18 years old.
Would you say your youth helps or hinders you?
Both. I usually have a really good time on shoots, since I have a lot in common with my models. The connection definitely helps me while shooting. The atmosphere is relaxed – which I find extremely important and beneficial. However if I work with people that are considerably older than me, I might feel slightly self-conscious from time to time. Also, some people don’t assume I am that serious about photography. Luckily that does not happen that often!
Within your work we’ve noticed that you focus on the female figure, is there any reason behind this?
Yes, I mainly focus on the female figure. It’s not a deliberate choice; it is just what seems most natural to me. I’ve been doing so many various things throughout the past few years: stock photography, HDR, macro, night photography, long exposures and so forth – however I quickly lost interest in a lot of it and felt like moving on to the next step. To me, portraiture (yes, primarily portraying females) feels like the last step. At least I definitely don’t feel like moving on to something else anymore. Basically it is what makes me happy.
What do you want to achieve with your photography?
I am trying to create work that is vivid, real and unique. It has to have an impact and an atmosphere that fills you with either emotion or memories. For instance my diary from Tanzania and my post on making it to the top of Kilimanjaro (www.gretatu.blogspot.com) is different and more reporting – and far from always portraying a perfect and polished world, that is to say! Also, it fills me with happiness when other young artists contact me because they have found my work inspiring and have led them to take a step further. That’s so important.
Within the realms of photography, what would be your dream job?
I must admit, that I really cannot grasp where I want to end up – which I am somewhat thankful of! My life would be boring if everything was set and I knew where I wanted to go. I try to enjoy the freedom and independence that is a part of being young. I am always trying to do my best and likewise I am really ambitious as a creative photographer. I am dedicated to photography only because of the fact that it feels right. Where it might take me? I have absolutely no idea.
Any exciting projects planned for the future?
I am moving to Copenhagen in a few months! I can’t wait. I hope I will experience new opportunities, meet interesting people and evolve – both artistically and personally. Also, I am traveling to Vietnam this summer, so my main summer project is definitely going to be landscapes, nature, travel portraits and portraying an unknown country.
To find out more about Greta Tu, you can visit her website, Facebook Page, and/or Flickr.
Interviewed By Angela Butler