Interview: Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir

Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir saw her life changed when her experimental images became a worldwide internet sensatiom.
I interviewed Rebekka in 2007 via email for a magazine feature.
Her replies to my questions are shown here in Q&A format.


Flickr's finest photographer

by Garry Cook

Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir is one, if not the, outstanding photographer on flickr, the photo community website.

The Icelandic photographer, known as _rebekka on the site, is both an example of how the internet can make you famous and how it can bite your bum.

Rebekka's stunning landscapes, with a smattering of sexy and humorous self-portraits, have fuelled a fanatical following for the 29-year-old. She's been featured in news and magazine articles around the world, been commissioned for major advertising campaigns, held exhibitions and does a tidy line in print sales.

And all because of the profile her photographs on flickr gave her. Rebekka's camera skills were honed as she uploaded her pictures to flickr. Her exceptional photography would eventually have reached a wider audience on its own, but there is no doubt her web presence accelerated the process.

Success for her, success for flickr, success for the internet. Jolly good.


The following is an interview I did with Rebekka via email in 2007.


Tell me about yourself.

I live in the town of Hafnarfjörður, in Iceland. I sent most of my life here, aside from the seven years (from age 4-11) when I lived in Gainesville, Florida. I joined Flickr in April 2005.


How did you discover flickr?

I was talking to a friend about needing some place to store drawings online, so I could easily show them to people, and he pointed out Flickr to me. I liked the way it was set up, and when I began browsing other peoples pages my interest in photography was sparked. I decided to upload some photos I’d taken alongside the drawings, to see if anyone would like them.


How long was it before you started getting noticed - when people started viewing your pics as soon as you uploaded?

I suppose the first photo of mine that caused any kind of stir was a shot of my torso, a nude, if you will, which I put up there out of sheer curiosity (not really expecting anyone to look at it).  


The views on my photostream doubled overnight, and obviously I found it rather entertaining to receive a bunch of comments about looking good. I'm human after all. So I started uploading more self-portraits, along with other photos, and the views steadily increased. However, I did start putting more work into my photographs, because the more attention I got, the more I wanted that attention to be for the quality of the photos, not for the shape of my body. 

Things changed dramatically when I uploaded a photo called Eve, in august 2005, of an apple “floating” in front of my face, which became astoundingly popular and controversial, for the fact that many people refused to believe it wasn’t faked. I simply tossed the apple up and caught it with a shutter speed of 2500. Quite simple really. 


The photo ended up on Explore, and over 200 people added me as a contact overnight, and after that, I felt I needed to continue to progress and evolve, so I wouldn’t be regarded as some kind of one hit wonder. 


It was a bit scary, as I felt I would never be able to top that photo. But amazingly, I seem to have achieved my goal, my popularity on flickr has grown continuously since then,  at the present there are over 16,000 people who have me on their contact list, which explains why I get instant feedback whenever I upload something, and my photostream has now been viewed 2,710,000 times. 


I’ve seen your Toyota Prius set - what professional work have you done as a result of flickr?

The Toyota project was the largest professional project I’ve done, by far. It was quite terrifying , to be honest, as I’d never done any type of commercial work before, but I learned a great deal from it, and it certainly helped get me more recognition here in Iceland. Apart from that I’ve done a few photo shoots for magazines and one cover for a CD. I haven’t been seeking out professional work in the past months, as I want to concentrate on school for now, there will be plenty of time for the other stuff when I graduate.


What has been the most remarkable thing about your flickr experience?
Obviously,  the fact that thousands of people worldwide know who I am is the strangest thing for me.  I never expected that to happen, ever, and I’m still amazed by it.  Out of curiosity, I tried entering my full name into Google the other day, and was stunned to see page after page after page of links to blogs and websites all over the place mentioning me, in languages ranging from Portuguese to German to Chinese.  Very surreal for me, because despite this attention I’m very down to earth, and don’t view myself as any different than I was before flickr, except I’m a better photographer, of course.


Do you expect to become a professional photographer?

I do, most certainly.


If so, how will flickr fit in with that work? Will you still upload?

That will remain do be seen. I suppose I will. Flickr has become a part of my life, in a way, and I’m very grateful to have discovered it, and for all the doors it has opened for me.


You can visit Rebekka's website here.



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