compagnon for inspiration - Episode 20: Frederik Trovatten

Our guest for this episode was born in Denmark, but his life took him around the block quite a bit. From joining a startup in Russia, meeting his significant other, and moving to Mexico City with her. And only 3 years ago, arriving in Mexico, he bought his first camera and got into street photography. And now he is a renowned pro. Let's find out if it's all about those brave life choices for him: Frederik Trovatten

compagnon: Thanks for taking the time, Frederik. When you uploaded a video titled 'Photographer shows you parts of Denmark otherwise unseen' we loved it. You showed the viewers something that felt like the true, authentic Denmark. Even though the weather was terrible. And you had your Element backpack on to deal with the rain. In no way we would have guessed you do not actually live in Denmark anymore. You are actually based in Mexico City. How did that happen?

Frederik Trovatten: "My pleasure, thanks for having me. The story of me getting to Mexico starts with me working in digital marketing in Russia. Some friends and myself were building an app there. While I was there, I met an Columbian girl and she asked if I was open to move to Mexico together. And I knew nothing about Latin America and I've never been there. So why not?! So I started a Danish telephone company in Mexico with three other Danish guys. And Mexico sparked my interest in photography and now I do that and youtube fulltime."

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compagnon: That sounds like an illustrious life already. And it is rather impressive, that you just bought your first camera three years ago. Other professionals grow into photography from a very young age or as teenagers. Why didn't you? What was the first camera you got in Mexico?

Frederik Trovatten: "Growing up I didn't see myself as artsy or creative. I was all into playing ice hockey and videogames. That was it. And then I took this camera photo a few years ago. I saw this cute older couple on a boat in Mexico City. It sparked my passion because this image was fascinating to me. I was hooked and shooting with my iPhone a lot. So I wanted to know what I could do with a real camera. And the Ricoh GR2 was recommended to me and I got that one."

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compagnon: Was it the correct decision for your street photography passion?

Frederik Trovatten: "I had never touched a camera in my life so I didn't really know how to operate it. I locked in a fast shutterspeed mode and had the rest on auto, because on the first try all photos were blurry. That's what mattered. I wanted to freeze the image. I didn't care if the ISO was high or whatever. Learning camera control can't be done with a photo here and one there. And I didn't want the camera to start catching dust on my shelf soon. So I announced on Instagram that I would do 365 photographs with this camera that year. One street photography snap from Mexico, shot and uploaded daily."

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compagnon: That's a great plan and actually no way for you to let that commitment slip. Is there something, in particular, you learned during that challenge? Any effects you'd like to share?

Frederik Trovatten: "Well, it works against a mistake many hobby photographers make: Not publishing enough. Having some kind of deadline everyday, you automatically get a structure and you build your ability & skill rather than just focus on your passion & taste. If you do it right, your skill should improve up to the level your taste might already be at."

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compagnon: Let's say that project, that was even covered by a journalist later, was a way of educating yourself. And you once famously said you could name more MMA fighters than pro photographers. Does that mean you do not look at other creatives' work, or you just do not tend to remember their names? Because you are clearly passionate about photography still...

Frederik Trovatten: "*laughs* Well, I'm still not sure if that's actually alright. I'm not a morning person so I stay up quite late and I remember watching an interview with American rapper Kendrick Lamar. And he was talking about how his inspiration came from the great, famous rappers before him and how you need to know the history of your art to really understand the culture and so on. So should I be a 'student of the game' too? Am I doing the wrong thing? Or should I just do my thing? This is such a difficult question. The photos I take today are not the ones I want to take tomorrow. I want to shed light on things that would be difficult to describe with words."

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compagnon: That is a great line. So what is it that makes a motif hard to describe with words? Among the photos you've taken and/or published, can you see some red line running through them?

Frederik Trovatten: "That's a difficult question. Sometimes you just need to see something. If I were to visit an incredibly beautiful mountain in Norway, for example, I could only describe it so much. You'd have to be there to understand. Mostly, it's visual stories. A story in that image that could be impossible to describe with words. That's what I focus on."

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compagnon: You are very focused on street photography, and it is your main expertise. Do you find it difficult to get bookings or job engagements in that field of photography? Especially since, as you said, nice portrait shoots in the streets are not really street photography?

Frederik Trovatten: "I can probably count all the jobs I ever had on one hand or at least two. The first was for a guy who wanted social media photos and I only had an iPhone 7 or something back then and he was still fine with it. Looking at them today, those pictures are horrible. Then I photographed at a concert for the band 'Offspring'. And in early 2020 I had a job taking real, non-lifestyle portraits of people in Mexico for a fortune 50 company. Actually it's a social media network we all use. That's all I can say. I thought just the same thing: You can't work for companies as a street 'tog' and it might be true. But there is still a market and a lot of creatives in that field who would love to do these jobs. Like William Klein, one name dropping I can do. A street photographer that didn't care for fashion photography but he was booked by Chanel for that and it worked. Great photos of a heartwarming guy. Focus on having fun and take it from there."

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compagnon: So acquiring jobs is not your personal goal, but a guy like William Klein managed. What is it that's setting a street photographer apart? Is it the passion for street photography in general? Or maybe it's a unique style nobody can learn or pick up but has to hope for developing one day? Or is it being somewhat fearless? What do you think?

Frederik Trovatten: "It's a big misconception that people do not hire people for street photography. That big corporate job I was just talking about, for example. They wanted that candid street photography look for their campaign. It was a three-day shoot, I had no experience on something like this and I got paid around 20.000 USD for three days of taking pictures. But these jobs do not come often, of course. But you need to stand out. And be visible. William Klein was visible. If William Klein would have lived today, he'd be big on social media because of his personality and his work. If you make an effort to be visible, you can get interesting jobs. But my goal, personally, is different. I want to make a living not having jobs like that at all. I want to pay myself a salary without using my camera on things I don't want to."

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compagnon: That's the most creative freedom one could ever get. Do the things you want to use your camera on ever change? Being able to pick your work must also mean that you need to find a new horizon or challenge for yourself. Do you have any plans or challenges set for the future?

Frederik Trovatten: "What I have used my camera for has changed a lot, I think. I simply expect more from me now than I did two years ago. I focus on street photography but I want to do a lot more documentaries. Finding a cause, going out an finding things to document. And have a person with me on the road to do the filming and help me document the documentary, especially for youtube. Challenges have never been an issue, I've been good at that from day one. Making sure that I remain my own toughest critic and push myself with that."

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compagnon: Do you have any topics you would like to get into, shooting such a documentary?

Frederik Trovatten: "That's still very open but there is one project I'd like to dip my feet in at one point: It should be named something like 'Neighborhoods', where I visit different neighborhoods in different countries and cities and capture the community of people who live there. They do not necessarily have to do something great but they should be remarkable and interesting in how they lead their lives. I'd like to hang out there for a week with them and document it. Something like that."

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compagnon: That sounds great but also difficult to make happen. And there would be a lot of traveling involved. Especially as you've been living in various countries, are there things that really matter to you when traveling for creative work? On your recent trip to rainy Denmark, you did use the Element backpack. Did it meet your expectations?

Frederik Trovatten: "Since I live in Mexico and started photography, I have not done a lot of traveling. I get the impression that many photographers would change their homebase every 12 months if they could, to keep getting fresh visual stimulation. I do not rely on that, but I'm keen to do some traveling as things return to normal. And I'm excited about the Element backpack. I don't do reviews on photo bags or anything at all but when I got it, is was super cool. And the one I got for my Mom was too. She just loves hers and told me it was the prettiest bag she had ever seen. And her standards are high. *laugh* I'll be using the Element backpack a lot going forward. Especially for travelling, it's great to pack one bag and have everything just in there. You'll see."

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compagnon: We can't wait! Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Stay healthy, especially these days, and best of luck and continued success in street photography and for your upcoming ideas. We're excited to see what you'll be up to with your Element backpack on. See more of Frederik's work on Youtube and at trovatten.com

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