It is indeed a rare thing to discover a person with a gifting for capturing the wonder and innocence found in the eyes and actions of a child by allowing glimpses into a seemingly fanciful world. Yet that is precisely what we have discovered in the photography of Sandra Bildstein (@_little.wings_). Her pictures bleed a cinematic, dreamlike feel and her compositions beckon you to stare a little longer. We had the great pleasure of speaking with her about her photography and finding out what exactly has inspired such creative beauty. Have a read!
I am a 41-year-old, married, mother of two children (5 and 8). I live with my family in Hamburg, Germany. I was raised in a small northern German seaside village surrounded by tourists. That, and the fact that I took journeys with my father on a banana ship to South America and other countries, may explain my tolerance and curiosity for all kind of human beings. I work part-time for a small electrical company as an office clerk and lead a pretty normal life - hence I feel the strong urge to escape reality from time to time which doesn't make it totally easy to live with me.
I would describe myself as a rather chaotic, unorganized person who tends to get lost in the clouds. I've had 1,001 different jobs in my life. I've never seen a university or college from the inside. And, before I accidentally stumbled upon Instagram, I didn't think about myself as a very creative person. The only things I knew I had some talent in were writing and learning languages. So I always dreamt the hopeless dream of writing a book one day and living in at least one foreign country. Things turned out differently and the only important journey I took was a 3-month backpacking trip through India when I was 21. It changed my point of view in many ways.
So how has your passion for and enjoyment of photography developed and shaped?
I've always liked photography. In my early twenties I bought my first pocket camera (non-digital) and snapped everything. I remember that I visited my parents once in my coastal hometown. I really hated it by that time and I took a long, autumn walk along the waterfront. It all looked very depressing and desolated to me and I began forming the idea of a series showing the gloomy side of the postcard views. It turned out to be pretty satisfying for me and I noticed for the first time that I could use my anger and negative feelings to create something. It took me another 15 or so years to take my interest in photography a bit more seriously and to realise that I really had an eye for it.
When someone told me bout Instagram, I thought, "Wow! Cool," and I started shooting with my phone. Let's say I became a bit over-passionate and obsessive. After three years of giving up myself completely to motherhood I guess I needed that to get back to my old personality. I soon found out that I liked gloomy and dark things so I kinda documented the decay in my neighborhood. I literally know every backyard and rotten corner and I guess I was known sometimes for being the crazy woman with the phone. This time was deeply satisfying for me - being on my own again finally.
Generally I am an easily bored person, so I looked for new subjects to shoot. My husband had an old Canon EOS 300D and when I started using it one thing led to another. I took photos on our forest walks. I explored the ground and soon I started using apps more intensly to create a certain gloomy mood and fairytalish atmosphere. Even still I edit 100% with my phone, but more out of laziness in learning Photoshop or Lightroom than anything else. Eventually I bought my first own camera, a Canon 650D, plus a few lenses. One portrait and one macro lens.
Taking photos of my kids was the last step then. Which is kinda funny because they are around me all of the time. I'm an observer. I love to watch them play and I like to be quiet until they forget I'm around. This is the moment when I begin to take photos of them. When I edit photos I always have movies and soundtracks going on in my head and so I try to achieve a cinematic quality. Like every picture is a part of a story. So it all matches somehow in the end. Photography is a way for me to visualise the stories in my head in a most intuitive way. I don't plan. Everything happens spontaneously. I think this is motor of my creativity.
How would you describe that process of capturing those simple, quiet, childhood moments?
Nostalgia is actually the keyword. I often think of my own childhood which was quite wild and free in my memory. My parents sent us out of the house and we met up with a bunch of neighborhood kids and did all of those secret, kid things parents shouldn't know about. I have a strong longing for those feelings and I try really hard to give my kids the same opportunities of exploring their world.
And so I just stay quiet and watch. I don't interrupt them when they're playing and often I use a tele lens to photograph them. It's not the cute, smiley joy that kids are supposed to show 24/7 that I am interested in but the serious moments when they're absorbed in themselves and when they're acting just as they really are. I never set up anything with them. Everything develops out of situations naturally. I really do like some photographs of children in which the kids wear oldschool clothes and such, but I decided against that for my own photos. First of all, my kids would never do me that favor, and second, it wouldn't be real. I guess I put most of my heart's blood into their portraits and it's those tiny moments between moments that I want to capture.
I often have children's books or movies in my head like The Goonies, Ronia the Robber's Daughter or The Moomins. I try to show a bit of the magic these stories created which left me with such strong emotions.
Your editing always pairs perfectly with your photographs. What does that editing process generally look like?
First of all, the original photograph must speak for itself. I don't use crappy shots and then try to make them look better by trial and error. I very seldom crop a photo.
My editing process always starts in Snapseed. Here, I do some fine-tuning like changing the contrast, ambience, saturation and temperature. Occasionally I highlight certain areas of my photos to add light on a face or something. When I think it's good enough to post it I open it in Mextures. I always have the exact mood in mind that I want to achieve and that is 98% of the time a gloomy one. I play around with the Landscape Enhance and Atmospheric packs. I only use the overlays at an opacity that isn't immediately visible. Then I try out different blends and do some more fine-tuning.
In most cases I add a final overlay from the Vintage Gradients pack. I try to avoid adding textures and strong light leaks to my photos. Although the tones and light must look natural even if they are not. Sometimes I head over to VSCO and to see how the filters there change the pic, but actually Mextures is always the last step in my entire editing process.
Would you mind creating a few formulas for the Mextures crowd to get a peek into how you use the app?
Sure! Try these out:
CKYPPIF , HIBXKZR and BBRVDLS!
Is there anything in particular that you hope to accomplish through your photography and Instagram?
Actually, I am not very ambitious when it comes to my photography. I like what I do and how I do it and even if I think it would be nice to work on a more "professional" level that's actually more of just what others are wanting me to do. I don't feel the urge to learn Photoshop for example. It would be nice but it's nothing I desire to put all of my energy in to. I think everything happens like it has to. If the universe or whoever controls us wants for me to participate in exibitions or whatever I will one day. I can wait.
As for Instagram, I love the community. I love that I meet so many different people. I love that we all have at least one thing in common. I'm not on Instagram just for sharing photos, but also for the friendships I have made and for different views on things.
So what are the things that have inspired your photography the most?
When it comes to my recent photography it's definitely children books and a few poems. I read The Moomins books to my daughter and I remembered the television series from my own childhood and that magical yet eerie feel I had as a kid suddenly returned. Whenever I take meadow shots or shoot mushrooms or snails I think in Moomin terms and their strange little world that is so incomparable. I guess I become some little Moomin creature myself.
The poems of Shel Silverstein are a massive inspiration for all I do. And music of course. I find myself listening to Jimi Hendrix for example again and again. And even if the picture I'm working on has no actual relation to the song I see it as a music video scene and I am satisfied when the movie and its soundtrack make perfect sense to me.
Generally speaking, I'm drawn to all things magic. Eerie magic. Pan's Labyrinth had a deep impact on me, as did as the old Jim Henson movie, The Dark Crystal. I like surreal things that make my imagination run wild and I like to make up stories with kids who suddenly find themselves in another world. Children and their ability to escape into dream-worlds fascinate me.
As far as Instagram goes, who are some of the people from that community that have inspired you?
First of all, I must say that I am more inspired by personalities than simply good photos. I don't like to follow accounts who don't interact at all with their followers. And there are quite a few out there. For me Instagram means something else.
I will mention a few here who hold a special meaning to me in personality and photography.
@morrrtveit became my best friend here. He has a great eye for photography and I appreciate his complete honesty and directness. He is actually one of the few who is allowed to criticize me. With him I'm running this small feature page, @deep_dope_tones, which we're shamefully neglecting a bit recently.
@gothamkid is unique. I just love his style and his straight forward way of never trying to please anyone.
@theraisingofkain (whose main account is @nikkinappoleon) is a standout. She's shameless in an adorable way, untamed and she is never afraid to show her emotions through her photography. I admire that more than I can say.
Do yourself a favor and view more of Sandra’s work here!