– The project started one early morning in mid-November, 2016. And for about three months, I was a frequent visitor while interviewing and shooting portraits of 54 of Malmö Opera’s approximately 350 employees. I also documented several of that season’s productions – both in front of and behind the scenes as well as during various production phases – from the very first rehearsal, to the premiere and eventually, the final curtain call of the last performance.
– The building that houses Malmö Opera is in itself an architectural masterpiece of more than 22,000 square meters/236,000 sq ft which opened its doors, quite amazingly, during the fiery of WWII in 1944. So, in addition to all the portraits, I also wanted the book to reflect the amazing architecture and some of the unique decor and art pieces that exist in, for example, the foyer, Malmö Opera’s magnificent lounge and places and spaces that most folks never get to see.
– Many of the interior and detail images that the book’s designer, David Pahmp and I chose, were used as what I call, “interludes”. The thought being that I could use these pages to create a visually appealing break between the book’s 54 portraits and that they could either be linked to a specific profession or share scenes from something that caught my attention during one of many visits.
Sofa chats and documentary photos
– On average, each interview and portrait session took an hour and every meeting started with a casual chat which I openly recorded. The book’s portraits were almost exclusively shot after each conversation – and as far as possible in a milieu or situations that felt relevant to the individual within his or her professional role.
Back in the studio, I transferred the audio files from the interviews to a Dropbox folder that I shared with Charlotte Raboff and her co-worker, Nina Järpestam. Both then transcribed each conversation into text.
Once the interviews had been safely transferred, I imported and edited the images in Adobe Lightroom after which I selected 10-15 candidates for the book. These were then uploaded to yet another Dropbox folder that David Pahmp and I shared over the course of the entire project.
I knew from the outset that the project would require structure and focus – quantitatively and qualitatively – and some really thought-through, detailed planning that would include both technical and creative solutions. I also calculated that the production would demand my ability to be flexible, spontaneous and at times, just go with the flow.
Perhaps most importantly, I was aware from the very beginning that I would need to get everyone I met to trust that my intentions were good-spirited and to make them feel as comfortable as possible about contributing to the project. Sure, they had already agreed to participate, but still. How else would I succeed at producing content for the book’s 240 pages?
Torgny Nilsson, Malmö Operas Press Officer, ran the project internally and continuously provided me with lists of contact information and a few helpful notes about the colleagues I was going to interview. It was also Torgny who, in the final stages of production, contributed invaluable help by editing and proofreading the interviews and the book’s interlude texts.
Without exception, everyone I interviewed and met during my time at Malmö Opera have been friendly, cooperative and generous with their stories in an amazing way. This during the darkest and at least for some, the most intense part of the year!
I have no background within the world of opera or musicals, which I mostly felt was an advantage. To some extent, I have been able to let my uninhibited spontaneity and genuine curiosity and fascination steer my viewfinder. And even though I was an outsider, I can only hope that I was perceived as a kindred spirit of sorts and unobtrusive. The fact that everyone in the building spoke so freely to me and offered their time so generously, points to this.
The initial purpose of the book, We are Malmö Opera, was to satisfy my curiosity about all that goes on behind the scenes at Malmö Opera and the folks that make it all happen. I think I succeeded in highlighting some of what makes Malmö Opera so special, an eclelectic collective of individuals with vastly different backgrounds and professional roles, but who together create world-class performances.
The Cover Story
Although this is my 14th book, choosing a cover image has not gotten any easier. Quite late in the project, I was given the opportunity to a special guided tour by Christer Jönsson who has been at Malmö Opera for a long time and, in addition to working as a planning coordinator, also guides guests in the building. When we reached the roof towards the end of the tour, I saw there was a clear view of Malmö’s latest skyscraper, Clarion Hotel Malmö Live.
After a while, I imagined that a photo from the roof of Malmö Live looking towards Malmö Opera might be cool to include in the book. After a call to Jens Lyckman, Clarion Hotel Malmö Live’s General Manager and a friend, I was provided with the opportunity that very same evening to shoot from the top of the hotel’s roof. Once set up, I then called Nada Kovacevic, Malmö Opera’s Guest Host, who kindly ignited the fire above the opera’s outdoor sculpture, “Tragos” by Nils Sjögren. It didn’t take long before we agreed that one of the images I shot from the hotel’s roof that night would work great for the book’s cover.