With a wide range of interests, Diane Villadsen always wanted to pursue as many things as possible. With a linguistics degree and her passion for photography, she managed to communicate a creative vision through her photographs and make a language that everybody understand. In this interview, Diane shares her tips on finding the perfect portrait locations and offers an insight into one of her recent art project.
Hey Diane! What is it like to live in San Francisco? What is your favorite thing about this city?
The Bay Area as a whole is a special place because there are so many beautiful spots to visit within a short distance. You have the mountains to the east, the ocean to the west, and a wide range of biomes in between. I love the personality of the area and the fact that there is always a new spot to explore. It’s hard to pick one favorite about the city, but I will say that my least favorite thing is the traffic!
I understand you have a linguistics degree. How did you end up being a photographer?
I’ve always had a wide range of interests and had trouble choosing a major because there were so many things I wanted to pursue – music theory, languages, photography. I grew up speaking Spanish and later French, so I always had an interest in language, and majoring in linguistics ended up being a natural choice for me. However, I started my photography business in college as a completely unrelated venture and grew passionate about the whole process. Even though I’m not actively working on anything linguistics-related right now, I do hope to merge photography and linguistics in a project I’m planning involving visually portraying compound words from indigenous languages.
Your photographs are all about capturing colorful and bright moments. How did you develop your particular style?
I look at my first 2 years of photography as practice: I spent them mastering manual mode, client interaction, and other more basic skills. The more comfortable I became with portraits, the more risks I took with them and the more willing I was to experiment. I have always been committed to minimalism, clean shapes, and thoughtfully paired colors, but now I am ready to elevate my work to having more intentional concepts and themes behind it. In the past year, I spent a lot of time studying others’ work and figuring out what inspired me.
You always use natural light for portraiture. How do you manage to find the perfect portrait locations? Could you share some tips?
I find many of my locations on Instagram just by browsing hashtags and exploring the “recommended for you” section. I’m always looking for symmetry, interesting shapes, and good light. I also virtually scout unfamiliar places on Google Street View and keep track of specific addresses that would serve as good backdrops. The other thing to remember is that often your best locations will be unplanned. I often come across old cars parked in the perfect place – something that I could never plan for! It’s always nice to have an epic cave or tree tunnel, but some of my favorite work was shot right outside of my apartment!
Beside doing stunning portraits you also do fashion photography. What inspires you the most when it comes to fashion?
I love that fashion photography welcomes and encourages creativity. With consumer portrait clients, you can only take it so far when it comes to taking risks. Fashion is inherently about taking aesthetic risks, so I love the freedom it brings to photography.
One of your recent art projects includes five almost identical girls wearing identical outfits. What was your story behind this project? How do you get creative ideas for your projects?
About a year ago (October 2015), an idea came to me about doing a shoot with a bunch of girls with bangs. I thought it would be cool to shoot group portraits of people who all had a similar look. That initial idea evolved into being less about bangs and more about general symmetry and identical outfits. I wanted to explore the repetition of shapes and colors among iconic San Francisco backdrops. It’s kind of eerie to see 5 “identical” girls walking around the city in bright, colorful outfits, so I liked the juxtaposition of a bit of strangeness with the warm tones of the shoot. I also drew inspiration from Osamu Yokonami’s “Assembly” series!
Often my best ideas just come to me, or are inspired by a very simple element I come across in my day to day life, like a staircase or a leaf. Unfortunately, you can’t force great ideas, but I do believe you can surround yourself with inspiration - other art forms, beautiful scenery, creative people. I encourage everyone to simply reflect on what is important to them and try to materialize that in their work.
What’s a day like in the life of Diane Villadsen?
Most of my days are quite ordinary. I work at UC Berkeley 4 days a week as a marketing specialist. On my days off, I am often busy shooting, editing photos, updating my website, making YouTube videos, or planning future shoots. When I’m not working on photography, I enjoy being outdoors, playing card games with family, waterskiing (when it’s warm!), playing piano, or writing. I have to say, I’m never bored! ;)
Can we expect some new work from you soon?
Yes! I’m working on a 5 of a Kind revival series, an “academia” themed shoot, and a few others I have up my sleeve. I will also have two unseen shoots published in Dreamingless Magazine and Magnolia Rouge in November!