Photographer: Mia Haggi
Location: I’m a bit of a serial “re-baser,” so that’s a tough question! I was born and raised in Tallinn, Estonia but left to start this journey I’ve been on over 12 years ago. It’s taken me to Milan, London, Saigon, Bangkok, Athens, Singapore and most recently, Hong Kong. Right now, I’m in the middle of re-basing yet again (Tokyo, Berlin and Mexico City are on the short list). The older I get, though, the more I realize that there isn’t a perfect place – it’s about where people who matter to you are, and where you have the opportunity to grow. Cost of living is important too. I’d love to revisit this in a year and see where I’ve ended up!
Equipment: My bread and butter is my Sony a7ii with 2 lenses; a 24-70 and a 55 f1.8 (that’s my favorite). Whenever possible, I rent Hasselblads for bigger shoots. I also use a Minolta TC1 and Yashicamat. Post production; DxO and Photoshop.
How did you get into photography? Tell us about your first experience (and your first camera!).
My childhood friend’s dad was one of the biggest Estonian photographers, and as a kid, I just remember him always having the most inspiring stories and pictures to show us from his travels. I grew up in the projects in the Soviet days, when the concept of traveling seemed like a dream. So photography for me started both as a dream and as a ticket out.
My first camera was a Zenit TTL that I had borrowed from a friend. I popped my photography cherry after high school when an editor of an underground music website challenged me to take photos for them. This all happened because I told him their photography was sh*t. Apparently, I was able to back up my trash talk, and other people started hiring me. I guess I got my start because I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut.
Tell us about your style of photography. How did you develop this style and what do you enjoy shooting the most?
Well, I’m inspired by dreams, fantasies and darkness. I come from an art background, and these were the themes I liked to explore. Dreams, fantasies and darkness, to me, come from the same place: our hopes, our fears, and our subconscious. That’s how we connect as humans: when we can communicate and share that with others on an unspoken level. I’m usually shooting people – their faces, their gestures, how they interact with their environment... I try to show these emotions visually through my work.
What are your thoughts on iPhone-ography?
iPhone-ography is perfectly fine when it’s called iPhone-ography. My problem is when it’s called photography. That’s disrespectful to the craft. Don’t get me wrong - beautiful shots have been taken on smartphones, just like great music has been made with turntables or some mixing software. But don’t tell me a DJ like Nicolas Jaar is Mozart.
Do you shoot things differently/look for different types of shots when you're shooting for Instagram as opposed to say a larger editorial? If so, can you give us an example?
Honestly, I just go with the flow. Photos to me are about fleeting moments, and as a photographer, it is my job to capture that. Of course, in a commercial, you create an image. But that’s more art direction and styling. I love that too, but that’s technically a different game. When I’m shooting an editorial, I’m still trying to get that moment within a larger stylized scene. I shoot as I shoot, and Instagram is just for displaying my work. I don’t shoot thinking “OK, now this is gonna be for Instagram.”
Tell us the story behind one of the most memorable photos you’ve shot...
Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Magic Hour. I was shooting a campaign for Chow Tai Fook, a big Asian jewelry brand, surrounded by seven heavily armed guards carrying military assault weapons. There I was, in the largest religious monument in the world, looking through the camera lens, as this small army blocked off the site just so I could have the whole compound to myself. Standing by the lake, I took a photo of the glassy reflection of this ancient wonder of the world, and it was then that I realized that this is “one of those moments.” I had visualized something like this when I was a girl, and here it was, in the real. It was beautiful.
“Learn the fundamentals first and then add your own twist...Talent is your floor. Consistency and dedication determine your ceiling."
What is a constant source of inspiration for you as a photographer?
Again, dreams, darkness, and fantasies. It's where we are our most real and it is what dictates everything that we do. For people, Paolo Roversi, Tim Walker, and Tim Burton. For the simple reason that their work gives me a window to see those dreams and fantasies, and to feel the darkness.
Who has been a great influence or mentor to you and what did you learn from them that you still carry with you today?
I haven’t been lucky enough yet to have someone I’d consider to be a mentor (I’d like to have one, though!). However, in terms of influence I don’t think I can pinpoint that one person. I can easily say I have worked with hundreds of different photographers when I was a model, and each of them have a different style hat has probably influenced me. I have also assisted quite a few photographers and got to know them, so in the beginning when I started shooting more fashion I would go and pick their brains.
Three of your favorite Instagram accounts to follow and why...
I don’t have a particular favorite, there is constantly something interesting coming from different channels. I just go down a rabbit hole.
Photography is all about capturing that moment. What’s the secret?
I’d say learn the rules before you break them. Everyone has their own eye, so the only way you’re really going to be able to express that is by learning the fundamentals; composition, light, technical skills, and so on. The fundamentals give you the tools to capture the moment exactly the way you see it.
Tell us three photography tips.
1) Always have a camera with you. If you don’t have a camera with you, you can’t take pictures!
2) Learn the fundamentals first and then add your own twist. That sets the foundation and framework on what makes
a good picture. You can then adapt and experiment to fit your style as you get better, but don’t skip the basics.
3) Practice, practice, practice. Talent is your floor. Consistency and dedication determine your ceiling.
If you could shoot anyone, who would it be, where, and why?
My grandma, at our old cabin in the woods. She passed away as I was flying back to see her for the first time in years. I was so close to her and we’d even planned to do a shoot together. I just didn’t get there in time. Just like that, she was just gone. I will forever have the picture in my mind of that day that never was, but I will never actually live it. So that’s a moment that I want to capture. I can never get it back.
Finish the sentence...
If I weren’t afraid I would... love to go scuba-diving.
I wouldn't be where I am today if... I didn’t take a leap into the unknown.
I've been listening to... '90s hip hop this week.
Kids these days... take too many selfies.
I look and feel my best... after exercise, sleep and an Estonian sauna (it needs to be above 100+°C and have a freezing lake to jump into)!
When no one is looking I... try to take their photo.
Traveling... is a luxury, not a right.
I respect... humility in ability.