Norwegian-turned-Londoner Kim Jakobsen To has shot for everyone from Acne to Canon (and Wonderland, of course), but it's his unpretentious, intimate and entirely lovely portraits that really caught our eye. We talk to him about Birdland, his exhibition at Rove Gallery.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I would say simple, clean and honest.
So what's Birdland all about?
Birdland is about what I find beautiful in my life. The title is from a Patti Smith song and it's an exhibition of three works inspired by the dreamy and free poetry of it. '220 Kingsland Road' is a honest and simple series of nudes of friends from London in my living room. 'Faces and worlds no one else knew' are pictures of two androgynous boys, Jakob and Jostein, and my boyfriend, Valentin. I wanted those images to be very utopian, airy and colourful, just as when the images were shot. The third work is selected images from commissioned works where I've collaborated with stylists in making a portrait, but with a high dose of fantasy and dreams injected into them.
You were born in Norway – what was your childhood like? Why did you move to London?
I grew up in a small town and usually played alone with Lego in my room, or roaming around the forests imagining elves and trolls around me. I guess my childhood was very peaceful, loving and completely free from the big world out there.
Do you have any unusual inspirations?
I get inspired from everything in life. It's important for the creative mind to open up for chance and a constant flow of energy from people and places. Comfort and routine is the creative minds worst enemy, so it's good being a little like a nomad.
Do you remember the first photograph you took?
I was about 10 and took my mothers camera and shot about one roll of the neighbour's cat in our garden. It felt great and I loved being able to play with the angles and the cat itself while I was shooting. I still have those images.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
Meeting people, traveling and being able to be part of keeping people's history and energy for the future.
You seem to photograph a lot of men – is that deliberate? Is it different to shoot a man or a woman?
In fashion I prefer to photograph men as it is relevant to my own interest in clothes and lifestyle. But doing womenswear with a great female model that completely gets the camera is the best thing ever! For this show however all the portraits are of boys, other than in my nudes where I also have women. I believe photography should be personal, so it naturally has boys in it as most of my friends are boys and it's also the gender I'm most attracted to.
How do you get people to relax in front of the camera?
Communication is very important, and I only photograph people I want to connect with.
What other young photographers do you really rate?
My soul brother Brett Lloyd is great, and I really enjoy many of my friends works such as Agnieszka Maksmik, Katja Mayer, Amira Fritz and Daniel Sannwald.
You've shot people like Yoko Ono and Beth Ditto – is there a celebrity you liked shooting in particular and why?
Both Beth and Yoko were fantastic to photograph. They are passionate women with a great confident personality who have given themselves to creativity, and have had such a positive effect on me as a teenager. I love strong women. They are the mother of the tribe. Saying that, my biggest dream would be to take a portrait of the godmother of rock and roll, Patti Smith.
Birdland is on till 14 October at the Rove Gallery, Lincoln House, 33-34 Hoxton Square, London. www.kimjakobsento.com
Words: Zing Tsjeng