Sweden: How re-discovering a passion led to living abroad


by Carla A. Rea

“Wonderland” a digital photo taken in Mullsjö, Sweden, fall 2018 

by Victoria Gaytan

Carla Rea developed a passion for photography when she was little. However, when she was in high school, she had to start considering what she would do afterwards. She ended up attending Crowder College, graduating in 2015 with a general studies degree.

After Crowder, Rea transferred to Missouri Southern, hoping to pursue something creative. While Southern was not one of her original university choices, Rea, now a senior fine arts major, said that her experience at Southern has been great.

Rea started at Southern in the fall semester of 2015, during which she took basic photography. The following semester, she took advanced studio photography, which was taught by Örjan Henriksson, professional photographer and professor at the Mullsjö Folkhögskola in Mullsjö, Sweden.

The summer of 2015, she was presented the opportunity to travel abroad through the Summer in Scandinavia program, the art department’s annual five week trip to the Folkhögskola. On that trip, she was able to learn darkroom photography with Henriksson.

“I absolutely loved spending the five weeks on the Swedish campus during the summer course,” Rea said. What intrigued her about analog photography was that it gave her a new type of creative freedom.

 “I feel like the darkroom course is accelerated during the summer which allowed me to pick an interest and completely focus on the subject.

 “Being there for the summer was such an experience. I made friends. I learned so much about myself and about the perspectives of other people and the world. It just kind of snowballed into me just wanting to go back.”

And so Rea studied abroad the academic year of 2017-2018 and she spent 10 months in Sweden. Throughout the school year, she traveled to Finland, Germany, Denmark and Poland.

During this year, she realized the importance of making connections with people.

That holiday season, she didn’t even travel back home for Christmas. She stayed at the Folkhögskola with other students, and they spent the season watching movies, playing games, and even made food for each other as part of their own Christmas dinner.

“It was such a moment where you realize that no matter where you’re from in the world, we all want this connection,” she said. “No matter how far away I am from home, there are always people I can talk to.”

There will always be people always with similarities and differences, she said. It’s just a matter of finding those people.

By the time the academic year was over, she didn’t want the experience to end. She inquired about returning for another year at the same time Henriksson offered her an internship in his studio. This would allow her to work with him in the studio, on location, and on shoots with clients.

 “At first I was intimidated [by Henriksson] because he is such a quiet person,” Rea said. She never knew how he felt about the work she was doing, but as she started working with him, she realized he has a calm demeanor and was open to her asking questions.

He was helpful in explaining how to go about solving problems and taught her how to operate in the studio, but allowed her creativity in her work. He also pushed her to question why she made her art, and to understand herself enough to explain it to someone else.

“[I had to be] innovative with the materials that I had available to me but also in a way that allows me to continue to be efficient with my time,” Rea said. This came in handy in the springtime when she and Henriksson were working in studio with products.

According to Rea, she and Henriksson had 550 products they had to shoot, and their goal was having their photos be consistent. Because Henriksson had contracts with many companies, they worked with a variety of subjects, including tools, doorknobs, and bath products like loofahs and shampoo bottles.

In the fall, she did lots of on location shoots where they went to someone’s house while a journalist conducted an interview. Working in this environment showed her the importance of communication and connecting with the people around her.

Overall, Rea’s time time in Sweden taught her patience and connection.

“I think photography is more than just a photo but about how we connect with our subject and share that with other people,” said. “My time in Sweden, around artistic people with different perspectives, has taught the lesson that even the someone’s wild side can be reined in with a bit of patience and understanding. It seems to have reflected into my photography as well.”