A Fleeting Life and a Beautiful Death


An interview with Einar Sira

“Post Vitam will stay with me as long as I can continue making photography”

Einar Sira caught our attention back during Life Framer Edition III with his series ‘Post Vitam’. His gorgeous, glassy still lives of dead animals, plants and birds are eye-catching – imbued with gentle detail and harmonious colour palettes – and challenging too; they reflect on life and death, the inexorable decay of all things living, and the fleeting and brutal beauty associated with that.

Sira’s is a project where working process is fundamental – from selection, preparation and arrangement of his props, control of lighting, through to post-processing, paper selection, printing and framing. We thought we’d ask him about his methods, and his responses are illuminating.

‘Post Vitam’ deals with powerful and emotive themes, and so I’m intrigued as to how the project developed. Can you shed some light?

I spent many years doing making photographs only for myself – as a kind of therapy – focusing on small details, mainly of birds.
The project started one Sunday morning – I went out in my garden and found this dead house sparrow. For the next 18 months I was able to follow its decay, taking one or two pictures almost every day. It became a sort of obsession.

Your images are slow and meditative – with a clear attention to color, shadow and placement. Can you talk us through your process? How do you go about building and furnishing your ‘sets’, and how much experimentation is involved in the final outcome?

Almost all my photography is done in a small garden pond. I use mostly natural light and a silver reflector. I have made some glass plates (~1m2) that fit exactly over the pond and I build them up in several layers, like a manual Photoshop. I spend most of the time arranging the objects and waiting for the right light. Recently I have started to use an LED light with a dimmer and this way I can work more precisely. I process the images in Phocus (Hasselblad software) and make small adjustments in Photoshop.

And what about the animals, birds and plants that you work with? I’ve heard that you are now known in your community for your work, and that neighbours will offer you dead things when they find them. With such care for the process in your methods, do this open up an element of spontaneity – that you work with what you are given – or do you have clear ideas of the flora and fauna you want to photograph next?

As the project has become known in my hometown I have had a few strange phone calls… I also have a brother who lives further north in a rural area and he does some collecting for me. Hunters I know about have also been very helpful – and I make “orders” with them constantly. Both the deer and the beaver were been planned works. The others have been fitted in, but I wouldn’t say spontaneously -I see what I get and plan what to do based on that. I have a freezer where I keep the objects in waiting…

I have some “dream objects” that I wait, with specific plans. Living in Norway the flora season is rather short and so I have also started to conserve leaves and plants, just to have something to work on during the winter.

Your care for detail extends to the careful selection of paper and framing. Can you describe how this part of the process works? It’s perhaps an area that many photographers are less attentive, or comfortable with.

I do all the printing myself and have spent a long time getting it right. It is very confusing when you start – so many brands, so many qualities to choose from. I have ended up with Epson Hotpress paper and a big Epson printer. The hotpress comes as “natural” and “bright”» and I use both. I try to print every day that I take photos – for me an image isn’t ready until it’s printed. In that way it is a very slow process – I can’t take many pictures at a time and I like it to be that way.

Printing has become an obsessions for me, and I wouldn’t be comfortable sending files away to be printed by others. I don’t do the framing myself. We are very lucky here in my hometown (Sandnes) – we have a really good local framer who really knows what he’s doing.