Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription.
The German fashion photographer borrows from fantasy to create new storylines that are inclusive of her subjects and spaces
In The Hundreds, cultural theorists Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart catalogue an inventory of “ordinaries”. The book amplifies the effect of everyday interactions with the world, the “rhythms of encounter”. This resonance of happenstance, shared experience and sensation of connectivity is at the centre of Fee-Gloria Grönemeyer’s work. Born from encounters, the photographs represent her bond with people and places, creating a visual poetry with a reflective quality. “For me, photography is so much about how we look at the world and how we look inside of us,” she says. “I’m interested in taking in all these things and transporting that into the image.”
Like many of her projects, Grönemeyer’s pathway to photography has been a journey. In 2015, she studied finance at New York University after gravitating towards the lifestyle of her mother, who successfully juggled a career as a director of a global investor network with a passion for design in her spare time. “Finance actually broke me mentally,” Grönemeyer recalls. “I felt like I couldn’t be as creative as I wanted to be. Photography opened up a lot in terms of meeting and collaborating with other creators and being able to realise beautiful projects together.“
Fast-forward six years and the German photographer, now based in Paris, blurs the boundaries between fashion, portraiture and art with a hypnagogic sensibility. “I’m often in a dream-like state, and I don’t see reality at all. Yet at the same time, I’m paying attention to life in extreme detail. I think this tension manifests in the work.”
Chiara Bardelli Nonino, of Vogue Italia, nominated Grönemeyer, noticing the photographer’s unique sensibilities. “Fee-Gloria has a rare, innate instinct for photographing fashion,” she says. “She is able to deconstruct outfits in pure shapes and textures while keeping their aspirational, desire-inducing, identity-building qualities intact. She remains true to the issues she cares about, using her voice and images to raise awareness and ask questions.”
“It’s vital for me to make the person in front of the camera feel comfortable. The emotions in the photos are inspired by the bond you create, and I think it’s always beautiful to see what happens when trust is present.”
In Beauty and Truth (2019), Grönemeyer worked with local brands, stylists and models in Bangkok, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Taipei, with a view to “represent the personality of the team and their city”. The editorial, created for The September Issues, was informed by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book The Little Prince. “The whole concept of the book is about never forgetting your childhood,” she explains. “There’s this one scene where he talks about a snake that looks like a hat to adults. But really it’s just a snake that ate an elephant. This concept of seeing things differently really inspired me.”
The project is emblematic of the photographer’s approach that orbits around a sense of place and the intimate rapport between photographer and model: “It’s vital for me to make the person in front of the camera feel comfortable. The emotions in the photos are inspired by the bond you create, and I think it’s always beautiful to see what happens when trust is present.”
Some of the most remarkable images of the series were shot on a rooftop in a small suburb of Hanoi that Grönemeyer and the model Trang Bui happened upon after a day of location scouting by motorcycle. We see Bui adorned in giant fans suspended from a simple frame, surrounded by everyday detritus and an endless vista of rooftops. The moments are exquisite, tender and effortlessly striking. Soft focus and the haze of Hanoi’s skyline activate a sumptuously coloured world in which the corporal and spatial become one. ”A place is created over time and has a story to tell by itself,“ she shares. “That history is an important part of the photograph, and I want to hold space for that.”
Grönemeyer’s collaboratively conceptualised images traverse the area between fantasy and reality, rooted in an attempt to understand what it means to be human. To be conscious and tuned in to life as a network of interconnected ordinary moments that become monumental through the very act of photographing them.
Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.