Photographer Daniella Midenge grabbed her father’s camera on a sailboat at the age of seven. Years later, she made a name for herself by creating a series of unique self-portraits. Now living in LA with her son, she’s still doing what makes her heart sing. As a photographer and director known for her colorful, expressive, and sensual images, she’s done worldwide campaigns with celebrities such as JLO and Kourtney Kardashian. Midenge’s space in Los Angeles is a combined daylight studio and home, where work and personal life live in harmony.
Photographed by Andreas Kock. Words Peppe Öhman. (interior images by Daniella Midenge)
Born and raised in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, @daniellamidenge made the move to Stockholm at 15 years old before eventually making Berlin her base for nearly a decade. It was in the city of Berlin that Daniella made a name for herself as a photographer. However, six years ago, she decided to relocate to Los Angeles after having visited frequently for work. It’s clear that the move has paid off, as she is now settled in a beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills. Yet, Daniella says she was initially hesitant about the space. She describes it as grand and opulent, bordering on tacky. But with her eye for design, she was able to transform the space into a warm and welcoming space that reflects her style.
Hello Daniella, how are you? Do you have time to talk?
– Hello TWWP, yes, I always have time for fun talks!
So, you moved from Örnsköldsvik to Stockholm as a young person, and then to an even larger city like Berlin. What was that like?
– I’ve always been curious, so it was natural for me to seek new adventures in Stockholm. A few years later, I stumbled upon an article about Berlin being alternative and different, and as I was young and broke it sounded like a good idea. My first rent was €132 a month and I had to heat the place with coal to keep warm. I made the move, even though I didn’t know anyone there and had to take on some odd jobs to make ends meet.
What kinds of jobs did you have before becoming a photographer and director?
– I’ve had a diverse range of jobs in the past, such as washing dishes at restaurants and working at a battery recovery service call desk. I also have a knack for mixing colors and have restored paintings in the past. I worked in the kitchen at a school in Copenhagen and dressed dancers in Barcelona. Was a waiter in Sydney. The list goes on. I even considered becoming a tattoo artist at one point because of my painting skills. Finally, I began working as a hair and makeup artist, and it wasn’t long before I got into creative direction and ended up grabbing the camera myself.
Why did you decide to move to Los Angeles?
– The main reason is that I wanted to take pictures in daylight, and Los Angeles has very good light and sunny days 90% of the year. I ended up in this house because it had a tennis court, which I painted out/repainted and am now using as a studio space. I’ve got plans to add more sculptures and create a sculpture garden, so that it has another purpose besides being a studio.
But back to why I moved. In Berlin, at that point, the culture largely revolved around being extremely casual and not wearing make-up, along with desaturated outfits, flat shoes, and the fact that people tend to work on projects that never get finished. The club scene is dominating and distracting. Wanting to succeed or having drive is seen as almost shameful. Sometimes, I just wanted to wear lipstick and big furs. Los Angeles is the opposite of Berlin in this regard, here, it’s super healthy and the sky is the limit.
What is it like to call Los Angeles home?
– I really enjoy living in LA because it feels like a combination of living in the countryside and being in a big city. You get the best of both worlds. You can have a house and be surrounded by nature, close to the ocean and desert and wild animals, but you also have all the conveniences and opportunities of a big city. I like going on hikes and experiencing a more rustic lifestyle. I could never see myself living in a city like New York because it’s so fast paced and constantly busy. As a creative person who absorbs a lot of impressions, I appreciate the slower pace and the peacefulness of LA, and I’m my own best friend so the solitude sits well with me. I love visiting New York for a few days, but then I’m always ready to come back to the calm of my current home.
How does the experience of raising a child in LA differ from cities like Stockholm?
– Well, one thing that’s different is the size and layout of the cities. In LA, you’re less likely to run into people you know just because there is no street culture, places to walk around, subways, and so on. Unless you arrange to meet, people are locked up in their vehicles, so that can be isolating. Another thing in LA is that parents hire nannies, this can make it harder to make friends with other parents because you don’t necessarily meet the moms and dads when you do a school pick up; you have to put in more of an effort to socialize.
“I’ve never been formally trained in photography, I learned along the way and experimented on my own. When I’m taking photos, I’m in a meditative mindset where it’s just me and the subject present and we enter a fantasy state. ”
If I could I would… Clone myself. My message to people is … To be brave and go after their dreams. I never thought this would happen but … I live in America. I love to … Laugh. I hate when … Clients wants a million selects. I like to be surprised by … An unexpected adventure. The most important thing when it comes to my relationship is … Honesty. I want to recommend … My playlists on Spotify. My favorite food is … Korean Barbeque. A perfect day is … Spent with the people I love.
A tip on decorating?
– Don’t be afraid to paint the walls in dark colors – it will add a sense of luxury to your space. Invest in one statement piece of furniture, like a designer chair, to elevate the rest of your furniture. Windows without curtains are like eyes without lashes so make sure to add that drama, as well as plants, to bring warmth and life to the space. And don’t forget the power of thrift store finds – bring some cash and an open mind, and you might be surprised at what you’ll find.
How do you approach interior design?
– Designing a home is just another channel of expressing creativity. I’ve always tried to decorate my homes and apartments based on the unique aspects of the space. It’s impossible to just pick one interior design style and use it for every type of home. When I lived in Berlin, I had an elegant old apartment that I painted in black with colorful highlights, heavy velvet curtains, brass, and lots of mirrors, giving it a Dracula’s boudoir vibe. When I moved to LA and rented out my apartment on Airbnb, my neighbor found some questionable items, like lube, condoms and a bra, in it. While it’s never been confirmed, I believe it was used as a filming location for erotic movies since it basically looked like a set. I ended up giving up that apartment and still miss some of the furniture and decor I had there. In Berlin, you can find great treasures at flea markets for a tenth of the price in LA.
My first house in LA was completely different. It was a midcentury architect’s home, cement floors, a round living room with large pillars, and sort of Japanese influences. I decorated it more clean and futuristically. For my current place, I had to make it much more fun and eccentric to erase the 80s Scarface vibe and make it cooler, and for it not to look like I take myself too seriously.
Do you have the same attitude towards work, that it should be playful, or is it all business?
– Definitely. From play comes art. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take my job seriously. I’ve never been formally trained in photography, I learned along the way and experimented on my own. When I’m taking photos, I’m in a meditative mindset where it’s just me and the subject present and we enter a fantasy state. Afterwards, people can quote hilarious things that I said during the session, while I don’t even remember saying them myself. I think as artists when we are in our flow, it’s something so magical.
“I AM INSPIRED BY HOW SOMETHING MAKES ME FEEL, IT CAN BE HOW A PERSON CROSSES THE STREET WHILE I AM IN MY CAR PLAYING A SONG AND IT JUST LOOKS LIKE A COOL MUSIC VIDEO. LITTLE REAL LIFE MOMENTS LIKE THAT. CHARACTERS AS SEEN IN DANCE, THEATER AND MOVIES, ALONG WITH ONES THAT’S OCCUR IN REAL LIFE.”
Are you ever nervous or stressed when working with celebrities?
– No. I can get stressed when giving speeches in front of people, even in an intimate gathering, but on set I can handle a crew of a hundred. However, I do feel vulnerable if it’s a huge production and I don’t know anyone there, almost like as if I were working naked, it’s such an intimate process in the end. A lot of times I might not get to choose the other creatives, so it’s important to bond with each one at the same time as I’m trying to get them to understand what I want. It’s a delicate process and I’m still learning. However, the celebrities themselves are usually nice and charming. I recently worked with Tove Lo who was wonderful and gave me instant trust in the process.
How did you build your career, working with such A-listers?
– I honestly don’t know, I guess the universe was helpful and also creative director Nicola Formichetti (who collaborates with Lady Gaga and held top design roles at Mugler) has had a big influence on my career. I don’t have an agent and I’m not very good at self-promotion. Most of my assignments come to me. But feel free to write that I’m looking for a good agent!
“Designing a home is just another channel of expressing creativity. I’ve always tried to decorate my homes and apartments based on the unique aspects of the space.”
Tell us, how do you prepare for a photoshoot?
– To this day, I still feel like I’m just playing photographer somehow haha, figuring things out as I go, since I never had formal training. Before a job, I plan out roughly how I want the creative to go and then there’s obviously a lot of logistics and production that I take part in so that everything goes smoothly on set. It’s only when I meet the model and size up their best features and energy that I decide more exactly how I want to capture them. I always want to highlight the best in each individual, I’d never push through a concept that doesn’t work with the specific person, same as with interior design and the look of a space as I mentioned earlier. By this point, I also have some tricks up my sleeve in getting people to relax in front of the camera and trust the process.
Give us an example of your tricks!
– One is to take a really great portrait shot as early as possible in the shoot. Then, I show it to the person I’m photographing, so they can relax and feel confident that the photos will turn out well. And I crack a lot of jokes so that it feels fun and light. This helps to establish trust and create a comfortable atmosphere for the rest of the shoot.
What do you want to do more of in the future?
– I’d like to do more film work. I also hope to release another book and have a show in 2023.