Léa Nielsen: Puzzling Polaroids


A picture is worth a thousand words, but what people are really trying to do with those words is enter the mind of the artist. Freelance photographer, Léa Nielsen, has captured many thought-provoking photos throughout her career that use an interesting mix of modern and classic effects in a way that leaves the viewer guessing about the meaning of her pieces.

The Copenhagen, Denmark native knew that she wanted to be involved with a creative lifestyle at a very young age, but she didn’t originally have her sights set on photography. She started off as a professional dancer and she moved to London at age 16 to continue her dance training. Unfortunately, she obtained some injuries and had to stop dancing. However, Nielsen was too creative for this to be the end of her artistic life, so she tried her hand at both costume- and stage-design before she finally found her true calling: photography.
niel4Nielsen’s photographs feature a lot of different lines and textures to the point that they almost look like oil paintings. But  they also feature color blocking and inserted lines that add a modern, digital feeling to the image. I particularly like her use of light and dark contrast. It actually reminded me a lot of the chiaroscuro technique of creating extreme lights and darks with shading used in drawings and paintings to add both drama and mystery to works of art. When Nielsen was asked to describe her photographs in an interview for the website 4 Pigeons, Nielsen said, “In general I like to create a feeling in my photographs that leaves you a little puzzled. Like something is going on, but the observer never really [gets] the answer…like a film with an open ending.”


Her collection “Strange Beauties” that appeared in Vogue Italia in February 2015 definitely had that “open-ending” expression and the mix of modern and traditional techniques in it. The collection features both color and black-and-white images of women with somewhat confused expressions on their faces. Their expressions are emphasized by the lines or color blocks inserted around them, or in some cases, over them. The shadows in the images also added to an element of confusion that is created by not knowing what the meaning of the image is or why to woman looks confused. The extreme shading with modern color blocking definitely gives her pictures the “puzzling” feeling that she is going for.

Nielsen is a fan of more unpolished images and works with polaroids that she then scans into the computer to digitally retouch. She said with 4 Pigeons, “There is always a kind of uncertainty when you shoot …you wait excited for a few minutes and you see the result. Even though scanned and edited they still have this ‘poetic unpolished ness’ that you so rarely see in image-making today. A real good photo will always be a good photo and nothing can replace it, no matter how much technology is around.” and good photos is exactly what creates, but then she infuses herself into them with her digital additions to create emotion.

Inspiration for her photographs comes from a variety of places and other artist. In the interview with 4 Pigeons, Nielson said, “I find inspiration in many things; movies, architecture, collage-art, b/w photography from the 20’ and 30’s such as Alexander Rodchenko and Leni Riefenstahl. And I keep coming back to Bergman’s film ‘Persona’ for references too.”

It makes sense, that these are her sources for inspiration because they too play with texture, shading, and perspective. “Persona” is a black and white film from the 1960s that uses a lot of still images with intense lighting. It also focuses a lot on faces and body parts like hands and feet. Alexander Rodchenko captures images of architecture from odd angles with extreme lighting. I think both of these sources allow for the viewer to see in a different way which might be the reason why they are such inspiring pieces of work for Nielsen. It almost looks like she takes these ideas and modernizes them by adding the digital elements to her work.

Now, Nielsen’s photographs can be seen in many well known magazines like Vogue Italia, L´Officiel, Veoir, Glamour and others. As she continues to grow and gain popularity her photographs will continue to baffle and intrigue people around the world.

~Shannan Rivera