I don’t know why taking a four month break from social media when you’re a well-established photographer seems so radical, but it does. Lina Scheynius’s dreamy pictures have been bringing their gentle magic to our feeds—as well as fashion magazines and exhibitions all over the world—since the mid-2000s. Two summers ago she disconnected and spent eight weeks out-of-signal in a cabin in a forest in her native Sweden. And then, last summer, she decided to take a 16 week hiatus from her 28,000 Instagram followers too. Was this foolishness? She seems so happy!
I was looking at your pictures this morning. The world through your lens is so enticing. I told my boyfriend that I would be disappointed in my life if I couldn’t make it look like that.
Oh no! But it’s very selected moments. I’m capturing a moment in time. My own life looks nothing like that …
It’s all about the light, isn’t it? Recently I wrote a list of the last 10 places I’ve lived around the world and realised that the one defining characteristic of my favourite homes, irrespective of all other factors at the time, was the quality of the light.
Growing up in Sweden, you get an obsession with light. Because it’s so dark in the winter and the summers are so bright. You have these extremes but you never take light for granted.
Well your pictures are lovely and you’ve always been really generous about how much you’ve shared them with everyone. When did you first start sharing them online?
I started in 2006 with Flickr. But actually in 2014, I set an auto-response and left the internet for eight weeks. Then last year, I left Instagram completely for four months. I thought I was going to leave for even longer because I was having a lot of anxiety and started having therapy for it.
Was the anxiety actually from Instagram?
I think so. I was always checking it and thinking about how I could get more followers. I worked out ways of getting them, like posting nude selfies and fashion work I’d done. And I think likes generate a chemical reaction inside, which I was addicted to.
And yet in some ways, posting nude pictures of yourself is also a form of self-acceptance.
That’s true. I started to do those when I was modelling. I was being told that I was too fat to work so I started taking pictures where I would push my stomach out even more. I thought the pictures would show this hideous fat thing and I didn’t post them on-line for seven years, until I was 26. But when I did, people liked them and said they were better than the ones taken by other photographers. I was so surprised at first. I had been in the fashion world and wasn’t aware of art photography, so I thought it was the opposite of what people wanted, but they did want it. But then I became kind of addicted to that. At least, to the high that came with that.
So that was why you decided to go off-line the first time…
Yes. It had 8 weeks of this idyllic lifestyle in a little cabin in a forest in Sweden. I made a book about it and people said that it was a very happy book.
When you came back, did you rush to your computer?
Yeah, although with some dread. It wasn’t that bad though. For the first few weeks, you get lots of stuff but if you don’t answer, it all goes away and you don’t get any emails anymore. People forget you.
I quite like the thought of being forgotten.
I think it’s scary too. Anyway I carried posting my pictures until last April when I stopped Instagram for four months. Then around August I posted one explaining why I was gone because a few people were asking and I got so much feedback, I started again. This time, only one post a week though. And afterwards I would delete the app as soon as I had posted something, so I didn’t get lost checking my pictures and finding out what the Kardashians were doing. I realised that you have to put blocks between you and your worst impulses.
There are also apps for that…
My friend told me about Self Control, which you can use to block various websites. It’s 24 hours and there’s nothing you can do. He also has a box where you can lock your phone for a certain time.
Now you’ve mastered these impulses, how do you decide when a picture is ready to be seen? Do you still strategise what will get the most likes?
Nowadays I just post what I want. I’m not picking up many followers but I feel very free. It’s more like being a child in a world where you want to keep playing and it’s hard to do as an adult because you have to shut off the critical voices inside.
The way you make the world look in your pictures still feels like the perfect life. Some of us would even try to buy that life.
You don’t have to buy it. What I’ve been trying to say in my pictures is that you can find little things around you. You can have a bit of light that comes in through your window onto your sheets and that can be enough. It’s paying attention in a different way, seeing what we sometimes miss.