In our latest entry in the Bathing Interview series, we get in the Le Bain’s pool with Sophie Mörner of Capricious Magazine.

Born in Sweden, Sophie talks about growing up by the cold waters of Stockholm, discovering her utopian style of photography and building up her publishing company and art gallery. 

Do you shower or do you bathe?


Do you have any ideal bath in mind?

I love swimming in the Baltic Sea—it’s always cold and has a very specific taste to it. When I was a teenager I would hang out with all my friends at a summerhouse that had a sauna and a dock. At night, we would sit in the lukewarm sauna and then run into the pitch darkness and jump into the sea. That moment when you jump into total darkness and then into cold, cold water is pretty special.

“I’m more into jumping in really cold water.”

How are the beaches in Sweden?

Where I grew up in Stockholm, we don’t really have beaches. There are more cliffs and rocks that you hang out on and swim from.

You once wanted to become a journalist. What were you interested in writing about?

I wouldn’t say being a journalist was something I dreamt of, I more stumbled into it. I got a summer job at a TV station in Stockholm when I was 19. It was in 1996, so you can imagine how fun it was. I worked there for a year and then moved on to a girls magazine, kind of like Teen Vogue. I really loved writing, and had always been writing, though I wrote more poetry. I found that I was pretty okay at my job at the magazine. So I decided that journalism was a good plan for me.

Did you want to express something, or investigate any contemporary or cultural topics?

Back then in 1996, I was a club kid that started working at a teen magazine because it was fun and fit my lifestyle. I wanted girls to have fun. And I was, of course, interested in culture. I wanted to be loud!

When I wrote for myself, I always wrote about heartbreaks, longing, pain and all those very young thoughts, ha. I think I even had an idea of writing a memoir at age 20. I had been through a few things and was helping young girls find their way in life. I always had a young one around to support and heal, so I definitely felt like it was important to give a voice to young girls.

So you came to photography soon after you arrived in New York, didn’t you?

After my job at the magazine, I went to a one year program in Washington DC around 1998, which was basically what brought me to the States. At that point I had transitioned from a straight club kid to an angry anarchist feminist. I wrote a lot about injustice and had very strong, feminist, propaganda-minded writing.

Writing in English was hard, so I started to take photographs instead, which became a total crush! I loved photographing, I was obsessed with it. It just matched my dreaminess and angry activist self. When I got into NYU in 1999, I was more into photography than writing. I took a summer course in photography and got hooked immediately the first time I was there. I was about 23. I started to photograph and then transferred into to Tisch School of the Arts at NYU for 3 years. I was photographing my friends around me, my community—girls girls girls basically.

Who would you say is your main influence? Nan Goldin would be one of them, wouldn’t she? There’s also a feeling of wilderness and utopia in your photos.

Of course you can think of Nan Goldin, especially when you photograph your community. Nan Goldin as well as Mark Morrisroe, Dave Armstrong and that whole group was very crucial for me when I first started to photograph. But when it came to the feeling of wilderness and of utopia, that was just my fantasy I wanted to create. Back then I didn’t reference artists and photographers that much. It was much more of an intuitive process. It was almost like a drug. I had to do it. I had to be in the dark room. My friends were very important to me on such deep levels, I would say that this time in my life really planted seeds for who I am today, it really shaped me, taught me to be loud and take space, to be fearless and careless.

“When I first started [photography], it was very much like a drug. I had to do it. I had to be in the dark room.”

Outdoors and harmonious moments… it feels like a natural, almost heavenly atmosphere.

“Heavenly…” I never heard anyone use that word for my work, so this is a first! I have heard idyllic or romantic. In a lot of my really early work, we were a group of friends who went to the forest mostly upstate New York, and I photographed. It always felt like a utopia when we were isolated in the forest for that one moment, that one afternoon, or that one trip, so I kept pushing the idea of this utopia. It was dreamy. I was pining for this world where you could just be free and these moments were total freedom. I cannot see so much harmony in these photographs, it’s more of a stillness, but with so much restlessness and anxiety, but maybe I am the only one that can see that. I also think my work is very sensual and sexy. I always had some kind of crush on the girl that I photographed, it was never sexual, more like a crush on who they were in the world, or what they represented or the space they held.

“‘Heavenly,’ I would never use that word for my work. I was pining for this world where you could just be free.”

So you also started your own publishing company. Is that another natural consequence of photography?

One could say it was a natural consequence of being a photographer. I got the idea of Capricious Magazine the first summer out of school in 2003. I wanted to start a magazine to publish my own photography and my friends’ work. It was really fun and a lot of people were involved. That fall I moved to Amsterdam to be with my partner who lived there and started to make Capricious Magazine, which was for emerging fine art photographers, and I loved it. So I made a second one, and a third one and when I moved back to New York in 2005, I kept making the magazine. The magazine lead to a new idea of making it a publishing company, and I began publishing Girls Like Us (with editor Jessica Gysel) and other alternative art journals that were very small-scale but could sustain themselves and Capricious Publishing had taken shape.

I also had an artist-run space in Williamsburg—Capricious Space— for three years (2008-2011) where I invited curators, creatives and artists to curate shows. It was like an extension of Capricious Publishing and was a not-for-profit and artist-run space. The reason for closing Capricious Space was because I felt a bit stuck to a place. So I closed it and curated shows in other countries that first year. Now Capricious Publishing has a bit of a different direction, but Capricious Magazine is still going. The publishing is going very well and we put out two to three titles a year, in addition to Capricious Magazine, LDC (Le Derriere Cri editor JOFF) and GAG (Girls Against God editor Bianca Casady). So everything has been very fluid or capricious, I would say.

What are the challenges and rewards of Capricious Magazine?

I feel like Capricious has become my lifestyle. Of course there’s a lot of challenges, especially financially, but it’s always rewarding when I get an email from an artist that’s been in the magazine and that led to them getting a show or another published piece. That is my drive—to create these possibilities for new artists that need more visibility.

How are your ideas circulating freely between your writing, your photography, your gallery and the magazine?

It is all fluid and everything relates to each other one way or another. It is like I have all these tools for ideas, tools in the shape of books magazines and exhibition space!

The newest endeavor is Company gallery (formerly Capricious 88) that I opened in the spring of 2014 that has moved away from photography, so in many ways it has a total different platform than Capricious Publishing. But of course there are crossovers between the publishing and the gallery and we have the possibility using the infrastructure of the publishing and what I have built up over the last 10 years to support the gallery and vice versa. I work with amazing people at both the gallery and the publishing that have a key role in bringing the vision forward.

I have to say that the one thing that has suffered the most over the years is my own photography, but since a year back I have gone back to work. I now set aside as much time as I can to work on my own things and I have a studio in Chinatown together with my partner. I have really missed living closely with my work, so it has been a great change. I feel like my photography, gallery and publishing work and my writing all ties together in some obscure unknown way. It is all fluid and it all touches each other on the edges.

“It is all fluid and everything relates to each other one way or another.”

What’s next for you?

Right now I am looking forward to some time off in August to train horses and rest, but I actually don’t like vacations so I always seem to create big projects when I have time off. I am very excited about the fall programming at Company, where we open with Barbara Hammer, to be followed by Taocheng Wang and Jesse Darling. We are also releasing the new issue of Capricious Magazine in September with the theme “Ex.”

I’m also planning a few really big shoots this summer which will be the grand finale of my utopia work, as well as some new horse bondage photographs which will be the last ones of my Horse Bondage series which I have worked on for 2 years, and I have a few exhibition coming up.

Oh, and I just built a black and white darkroom so I will spend a lot of time there!

Photography: Skye Parrott

Thank you to The Standard High Line for inviting us to the Le Bain.