About Me

Interview with Ester Segarra

Ester Segarra is a well-known photographer in the underground scene. She has worked with most of all legendary bands and her photos have graced the covers of many magazines. In 2018, it was time to immortalize her work in the form of a book  “Ars Umbra – The Art of Ester Segarra”. Metal Imperium had a conversation with the mighty Spanish girl. Read on…

M.I. - Please do a brief presentation of Ester Segarra.

Born in the Mediterranean city of Barcelona, Spain, to a traditional Catholic family, surrounded by the magic of Gaudi’s architecture (Park Güell was her school time playground and Sagrada Familia, her local church), it wasn’t long before Ester Segarra had dreams of exploring other realms, within and out. It was a picture of a sunset she saw when she was six-years-old that sparked her fascination in photography. Opportunities for artistic expression in her traditional upbringing were non-existent so she created an imaginary world, filled with words, images and music. Her first chance to experiment with photography came during her teenage years, when she was given a chance at school to take a photography class. Against her parent's wishes, she enrolled without a camera but with fiery determination. She had found what she loved and what was going to destroy her. At the turn of the millennium her insatiable thirst took her to London, England. It was to be a temporary move but fate intervened and it's been her home ever since. Here she was able to combine her two big loves, photography and music. Starting to work for Terrorizer Magazine in 2001, she went onto work for Metal Hammer, Decibel, Rock Hard, Iron Fist, Deaforever, This Is Metal and labels such as Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Candlelight, Rise Above, Spinefarm and Peaceville. But most important is the music of the bands her pictures have been instrumental in promoting: Watain, Electric Wizard, Rotting Christ, Venom, Triptykon, Carcass, In Solitude, Mayhem, Shining (Swe), Uncle Acid, Blood Ceremony, 1349, Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Abbath, Cathedral, Angel Witch, Ghost and many more. Always striving to translate the sound into a pictorial representation, she creates worlds around the masterminds behind the music with the purpose of capturing their essence. Working always from within the darkness, her art is inspired by the shadow/light work of Caravaggio, the nightmares of Goya, the surrealism of Dali and the never-ending exploration of death.

M.I. - How old were you when you became interested in photography?

My first memory of a picture is from when I was 6-7 years old. I got seriously into photography when I was about 15/16.

M.I. - Are you self-taught or did you take a photography course?

I have studied my craft.

M.I. - Things began changing when you moved to London… why did you decide to move to another country in order to pursue your dreams? Is it tough being a photographer in Spain?

I didn’t decide to move to another country, I went to London initially just for the summer to earn some money to pay for my photography course in Barcelona, fate had it that when I had the money it got stolen. I decided to stay rather than go back empty handed. For what I hear from my colleagues it is not easy to be a photographer in Spain, but then many can say the same about being a photographer in London. I read somewhere that it is the same boiling water that hardens an egg and softens a potato, so it is not the circumstances but how you react to them. 

M.I. - In 2018 things may be easier but how complicated was it for you to breakthrough in a scene that was mainly dominated by men? Were you discriminated somehow?

I have never blamed my gender for any struggles I had. Neither have I felt anything but respect from the people I have worked with, including many amazing women. What I have noticed is that when you are a woman, first you are a woman and then whatever you do, when it comes to men gender seems to have no relevance and they are seen for what they do.  But of course, I only know one life and one way of doing things and that is as a woman.  A woman who is capable of using the feminine traits of chaos as well as the masculine ones of order she has, both equally essential and necessary when you are a working creative person. 

M.I. - Photographing extreme metal bands is a dream come true or is it just a way to get closer to your purpose?

Working on what you love is a dream come true.

M.I. - How did you feel the first time one of your photographs was chosen to be featured on the cover of a magazine? When did it happen? In which mag? Which band?

My first picture on a cover was a commission from Terrorizer magazine in London with Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth in 2002. It was a double cover, together with Kristoffer Rygg from Ulver who was shot separately in Oslo. I had to put them together for a prog special. It felt kind of a continuation of a previous cover I had worked on, the Gore special where I had to use some pretty boring Necrophagia promo shots, combine them and turn them into zombies. What it was really weird was when I saw a cover of mine for the first time in a shop! Amongst other magazines there it was my picture on the cover! Even more overwhelming when I saw someone picking it up. I was like… shit! This is not just on my computer or on a magazine I get at home… everyone can see it! Fuck! I felt a huge responsibility and seriousness about what I was doing outside my own.

M.I. - Do you buy all the issues in which your work is featured in order to keep a memory of it?

I can’t keep track of all of them! I keep the ones I get sent. And the ones I come across I get. 

M.I. - Season of Mist just released your book “Ars Umbra – The Art of Ester Segarra”… did you ever expect this to happen? How did the opportunity come up?

I never thought of a record label releasing the book, but during the process of it and as it was gonna have a soundtrack, a couple of people whose opinion I respect immensely, suggested the idea of a record label releasing it and that SOM would be a good option. I liked the idea and thought that would fit the whole idea of the book fitting in a record collection. Having worked with SOM many times before and having many of their bands in the book as well as them having a graphic outlet, I thought about approaching them. I presented the idea to Michael Berberian and he agreed! And I can’t thank him enough for believing in it!

M.I. - You have many more photos than the ones featured on the book… in which criteria did you base yourself in order to select the ones you did? Did anyone help you out?

I had to go through nearly half a million of pictures! One of the first decisions was whether the book would be concert based or session based. That already discarded a huge amount of pictures. Still some live pictures made it to the book. Then it was selecting pictures I was happy with, combined with what bands and how music and bands are being portrait. And, finally, what fitted and what didn’t. It was a very long, painful process as many that didn’t make it I am very much attached to them. I got feedback from those closest to me but ultimately was a pretty intuitive process, where my role was to unveil the book in physical form. As Michelangelo said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it” .

M.I. - How are the sales of the book going? How about the reviews… are you happy?

I am overwhelmed by the feedback and response to the book! I did it with a lot of love for the music, the fans and those in it, but you never quite expect or know what the outcome will be! And I love that the reviews have come directly from the musicians and the fans… and the words used and the passion and enthusiasm…. Melts my cold heart. I do not keep track of the sales but the response at the presentations I have done have been great!

M.I. - The book was released with an original soundtrack composed and recorded by Uno Bruniusson. Why have you opted to add sound to the book? 

The idea for the soundtrack was to provide a rhythm a pace and a mind-altering interactive experience of the pictures by using one of the earliest forms of music, drum-based percussion sound. It is a music photography book, so contains music and photography and it has been created in a format that mirrors an album, reversing the process by which the music pictures are born. Music photography exists because of the music, the soundtrack which takes you back to the very origin of music exists because of the pictures. The end/death becomes the beginning/birth, the serpent that eats its own tail. The symbol of the book is an Ouroboros. It was inspired by a Macumba ritual I attended in Brazil. 

M.I. - You have achieved so much in 15 years… what are your objectives for the future? What’s your main dream now?

I am entering what is known as the creative void, a space of nothingness. Of in between. An end and a beginning. I know the end but not the beginning.

M.I. - Of all the bands you’ve photographed, which marked you the most and why?

Depending what criteria I would use I would give you different answers.

M.I. - Have you ever had to photograph a band that you couldn’t stand but still had to do it for the money?

In the beginning I did and taught me to avoid it at all cost in the future.

M.I. - Is there a band/artist that you would like to photograph and haven’t yet?

Black Sabbath.

M.I. - How does a photoshoot happen? Do bands ask for weird things?

It depends on the shoot… sometimes you are given specific instructions, others it’s a collaborative process where ideas get bounced between the artists and myself (and or management/ label/ magazine). Sometimes ideas can go pretty far from what is considered acceptable or normal in society, but it is something I am not particularly concerned about.

M.I. - How different is it photographing in a studio and on location? What aspects do you have to take in consideration?

The main difference is that on location you are at the mercy of the elements and the light, and in studio you have full control over both.

M.I. - Did you ever have to cancel a photoshoot for some reason? 

That I remember I had to cancel 3 shoots, one because there were no planes departing due to weather, another because I broke my wrist on the way and ended up in hospital and the last one because of illness. I don’t cancel lightly! I have even covered a full-day festival after spending the night at the hospital.

M.I. - Who manages your career? 

Me. I am a one-woman business.

M.I. - There are exhibitions of your work at galleries… is there much interest in this kind of exhibition? Will the exhibition be touring?

I have done some exhibitions in galleries and the response has been positive. There are some plans of taking the exhibition at the Triptych in Kiev to other places, no details yet.

M.I. - Do you limit your work to photographing bands or do you do other kind of works as well? 

I work a lot with artists who work with glass and ceramics.

M.I. - What’s the best thing about your job?

Immortalizing fleeting moments, most of the people I meet and work with and the challenges that the jobs bring on a daily basis.

M.I. - If you could go back in time and meet Ester Segarra in 2000, what would you tell her?

Hold on tight! You are in for the ride of your life! It’ll be long, it’ll be hard but above all it will be wild! Go with it and let it be. 

M.I. - What’s your favourite music genre? 


M.I. - You know many artists in the underground scene and travel a lot… what’s it like inside the scene? Do people really get along or there’s much jealousy?

You find a great sense of camaraderie, but just like best families there’s ups and downs.

M.I. - Many thanks for your time, Ester! All the best for you! Please share a few words with the fans of your work and readers of Metal Imperium.

Thank you very much for the interview.
“It’s impossible” said pride
“It’s risky” said experience
“It’s pointless” said reason
“Give it a try” whispered the heart.
Follow your heart. Always.

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca