1/1000 is our interview series with sports photographers, who play an important role in the skating community. It is also the optimal shutter speed used in sports & action photography. This time we met up with Anja Wettergren, a Swedish photographer from Stockholm, who has been living in Nottingham (UK) since 2005, where she was previously a skater for the Hellfire Harlots and now is a passionate roller derby photographer. Anja’s work stood out to us because of her post-production and colour style that create dramatic effects and because of her image compositions that hint at a longer story than what is visible in the 1/1000 second displayed in the final image. So naturally, we had to find out more about her style, background and how she approaches her projects.
You used to be a skater for Hellfire Harlots, then took a break, briefly went back to skating but then fully transitioned into your role as a photographer. Had you already started photography during your break? What made you decide you wanted to transition?
When I quit roller derby the first time from burnout, I finally had the time and money to pick up photography properly. Funnily enough, it was photography that also brought me back to the sport. When I started shooting roller derby in May 2017, it was only to practice something other than nature and street photography, but it didn’t take long until I discovered how much I loved the huge challenge of indoor, team sports photography. And, after a year off, I had also started to miss the derby community. So within a few months, I pulled out my skates from under my bed and they still fit like a glove! I came back to skating for a year, but I was simultaneously shooting high-level derby both in Europe and North America (2018 was crazy: I shot 2 World Cups – the Women’s in Manchester, UK and Men’s in Barcelona, Spain and 2 Champs – the WFTDA in New Orleans, USA and the MRDA in Salem, Oregon, USA for example!) and keeping a very intense full-time job plus working overtime to pay for all my travels. As you can probably understand, something had to give and as I’d already taken my roller derby career as far as I realistically could, I quit again to fully focus on photography. I’m still a member of my league though and I’m still very much learning about photography!
Your images stand out for us because of their composition. There often seems to be a small story involved within your images. The viewer can guess what has just happened or what will likely happen next. Even though they are still images – they create movies in our minds. Is this intentional? Something you look for? Your style?
Yeah, it’s intentional, if that’s how the game presents itself. I do look mainly for interaction between skaters, even though I also like taking cool individual action shots, or tight cropped portraits. With roller derby, you really have to just be in the moment as you can only cover a part of the track at any given time and there are quite a lot of obstacles when shooting, as well as usually very bad light which makes it even more difficult for ambient shooters like myself. So, being able to read the game and predict what’s gonna happen in the next split second, as well as trying to keep an eye or ear out for what’s happening outside the narrow scope of your lens is key to maximise your chances at capturing great moments. You have to be fully immersed and constantly paying attention. It’s very zen, I guess, while you’re doing it, but also very mentally draining if you shoot tournaments, as you often shoot every single game. But yeah, my style I guess is trying to show the sport, the skater and the human, if that makes sense? I look for tension in the composition, and for a composition that lets the eye comfortably read the image.
Where does your inspiration for your compositions come from? What are your artistic background and general aesthetic?
I have worked as a professional figure painter at Games Workshop for the last 14 years, and I think a lot of my style comes from that. When painting 3cm tall figures you have to develop a sense of balance between colours, depth, detail and composition so that your eye is drawn to it, and can easily “read” the figure without being confused. Our house style artwork is quite bold and strong and I think that’s definitely helped shape my style. Other than that I don’t have a traditional artistic background, apart from trying my hand at loads of creative things throughout my life. I only went to college (in Sweden that’s before University) for two months and although there was a strong focus on the arts, it wasn’t an actual art school. In general, I like strong, vivid, bold, confident, weird, strange and lively images (and experiences and people too, it’s kind of a theme I guess), I’m definitely not a fan of Scandinavian understated minimalism! A moment in time composed to tell a story that went down during the Women’s Roller Derby World Cup in 2018. Team England vs Team Canada: the English jammer Alex Wilde exists the pack running, while Canadian jammer and STEAKS® Crw member Falcon punch is still stuck in the English wall, held – by what seems to be – the last blocker. Alex has her eye on the pack: to check if she is being hunted down or to check to see where Falcon is? That part of the story remains untold.
Speaking of colour – can you tell us more about the post-production of your images?
I don’t have a set way of doing things yet, I’m still learning! I love post-production though, it’s so creative and fun, I feel a bit like a kid in a candy shop. I don’t Netflix and chill, I Lightroom and chill, haha! Lately, I have been trying to edit in a more natural style, but it’s still a process, and quite a big part of that is the technicality of photography itself and learning how to use my camera fully.
The dramatic colour and contrasts you use are especially visible in your skatepark images. What is up with the sky in these images? Pure luck?
It’s lucky in the sense that the clouds roll in during the session, but it’s just an editing technique to bring out the textures and shadows to create a super dramatic image.
What do you want the roller derby world to understand about roller derby photographers?
Roller Derby photographers are a very passionate bunch who travel far and spend a lot of time and money on shooting this sport, and I think one thing that we really appreciate is to be included in tournament planning just like other people who work them: well in advance so we can make travel arrangements and book time off work and save up money etc. Oh and I can’t speak for everyone of course but I LOVE patches! Always appreciate getting a patch as a thank you.