Bali based photographer Stephen Butkus is originally from Norway. He first found photography by documenting subcultures in his early years with a Contax t1 point and shoot camera getting up close and personal. Steve looks at peoples fashion sense, way of acting and also how people move...
Working and living in Bali, Indonesia he has collaborated with some of the worlds leading swim and fashion brands in Asia, Australia and South America.
Celebrating 20 years of shooting Stephen is publishing his first book in 2022.
Stephen shot for us recently on 35mm film in the Mentawaii Islands in Indonesia with his muse Saint Daria. The results are stunning, interesting moods of tropical life so we thought to ask... how is Stephen?
How are you and where do we find you today?
Hi there! Im doing fine thank you. Always on the move or doing something it feels like. But that’s how I like it.
I am currently sitting at my favorite cafe in Canggu, Yema kitchen.
Do you believe in Astrology and if so what is you star sign and its characteristics?
I actually dont. haha, Well that means, I haven’t yet had anyone convince me of it actually having any real impact besides the fact that if you do believe something enough it might seem that its working.
I dont need that and dont feel like hanging anything on star signs. But if you need to know - im a scorpio. And then you go; «that’s a very Scorpio thing to say»..
Song you’ve had on repeat?
Sheku kenneh mason with: Same boat.
We love your images. Your photos feel beautifully nostalgic but have a modern carefree feeling too. Your perception of light is incredible.
I described your style as a blend of today’s wonder-lust meets a 90’s supermodel grunge aesthetic. I’m guessing this style comes from the lifestyle you’ve created and experienced over time?
So I started out documenting subcultures in my early years as a photographer.
And at this time all I had was my point and shoot camera. I had to get close and personal. And by looking at peoples fashion sense, way of acting and also how people move - I adapted that into my now more commercial style.
I also just love that era no? It was fucking epic.
How do you describe your personal style and aesthetic Stephen?
Cant go wrong with the Marlboro man style? White tee and jeans. Might not do the cowboy hat tho.
Yes i do rock up in jeans at the beach. And now - with a pair of my fav Childe eyewear. Can you please do prescribed lenses as well? Im blind as a bat.
What are three words that your friends use to describe your personality please?
Haha.. I can only hope its nice.? I feel slightly narcissistic answering this.
I know people think im a strange person. And I take that as a compliment. But also - trustworthy and I treat my close friends as family. And im honest. I try to be.
Do you consider yourself an artist or a photographer?
Lets say photography is a tool for me to express my artistic vision.
What other forms of art do you indulge and enjoy?
I love singing. And I love to make food. I used to be a chef for many years.
Can I also say drinking wine? Its a form of art. ;)
How or what got you started as a photographer in Norway?
My friend Steffen. We decided to join an art school together called Robert Meyer school of arts.
Soon after that I was an apprentice at Norways biggest portrait photographer.
But i also picked up my Dads camera as young kid and pretended to take photos. I remember i noticed this small shoot happening in Bold and the beautiful series intro. I wanted to be like that.
On your website profile it says you started out taking photos of sub cultures and nightlife. How amazing.
Can you describe some of those sub cultures and theimages you curated and captured?
Well I was a part of the VICE magazine team and the magazine that got inspired by that in Scandinavia. So entering that scene was easy for me.
I was fond of taking pictures between 2am and 7am. And things like skateboarding, music and grafitti got me trapped in that world.
What medium did you shoot when you started and what do you prefer now?
I had a point and shoot. Contax t1 And to this day i still use the same camera. But if i use anything digital it would be Fujifilm medium format.
I have many others but its tools for me. Im not a very technical person. I only recently learned how to turn my iphone off. I struggled with that for a minute.
And my trusty assistant does all the tech stuff. I load film and shoot.
Does your personal perspective lens change when behind the lens?
Sometimes it does. If its for a client I have to think like the client. But I do offer my self the respect that over 23 years of shooting I can adapt some of my influence in my camera and inspire both model and client and furthermore the final viewer.
What experiences cause or inspire your perspective to evolve and see things differently?
There is so so much to talk about here! My entire life is a set of experiences that all come together and is continuing to evolve me.
Id say loosing my mom to cancer in a early age inspired me to grab life. Live it.
How did you connect to Bali from Norway?
On my business trips to South east Asia I discovered Bali and used to come here for small vacations to surf and chill. I wanted that life style after working busy days in busy cities around the world. One day I called my agent and told her im moving to Bali. That’s 5 years ago now.
How does Indonesian people and islands inspire your creativity?
Not much to be honest. I miss a good museum. There is a energy here that I do like. And it makes me more vulnerable.
Bali as a place is full of artistic drama. Have you had any dramatic experiences in Bali?
I dont like drama. And I tend to keep away from that. You attract what you are.
You love to shoot in the Mentawaii Islands and these images evoke a beautifully peaceful and sexy mood that makes you want to get lost in the islands.
If you got lost in the Mentawaii’s forever what 3 things would you take with you?
Forever… I mean how typical of me to say a camera. But I would rather learn to paint. So I can redo my experiences on paper.
A camera would break down fast. And I would just be irritated.
A guitar. And my girl.
What does an ideal day look like for you in the Mentawaii's?
Get up 5.30 - meditate. Surf. Shoot. Eat and drink wine.
And what do you learn each time you visit?
To be more still. Take time to enjoy the calm energy.
Daria your muse here is absolutely stunning. The mood between Daria, you and the camera is magical. Can you describe how important the connection is to create extra special images the evoke a strong feeling or mood?
Thank you.. Its so much of why Daria is a good model. Letting her self be free.
That is a part of why I love shooting so much. I have really studied my way though human interaction and also the way we communicate. I absolutely love it.
Id say im more in love with that part rather than the actual shooting sequence.
What does the statement “The Future is Nature” mean to you?
That if we do not change our true connection to nature we will loose everything.
When does you beautiful book “Ou la Lumiere se cache” get released?
Oh man! That’s a hectic one! Its set to be 15th of November this year!
Who is your current inspiration as an artist? Dead or alive?
Right now id say Juergen Teller, Robert Mapplethorp and my books.
Do you have any words of wisdom for emerging artists and photographers?
Please please dont rush. Learn your craft. Over and over. Never stop evolving. And what ever you do - be inspired but find your own style.
Photographer - Stephen Butkus
Model - Saint Daria @saint_daria