From running her own agency creating content for magazines to managing not one but two Etsy shops to creating her own lip balm and raising chickens, Swedish photographer and vintage aficionado Caroline Henkelius is full speed ahead. Below she talks a bit about her background (all this with only nine years of education!), gives us some insight into the products she promotes like traditional Swedish rag rugs, and tells us about life in a small village with a beautiful river running through it.
LO: Tell us a bit about your background.
CH: I was born 1984 in Småland – in the dark woods of the middle south of Sweden. Not far from where the founder of IKEA started.
When I was 12-years-old, I moved with my mother to Göteborg /Gothenburg. I went to a Waldorf school that gave me a lot of free space to develop my own lust for art.
I worked as a bartender for a very short time and then took up casino work for about three years – black jack, roulette and poker – learning a lot about service and being a great seller. Gambling is very simply “selling dreams” in my opinion. And in a way that is what I always have been doing and still do – sell a dream – a feeling of something “more”.
The difference from then and today is, that I do not want to sell an unreal dream or an illusion of happiness – as in gambling, the rush of winning – in real life I feel that it is the greatness of “just being”.
I now live in a tiny little village about two hours north of where I was born. Here the land is more open, not so much dark woods, and the lands have a powerful history of old wisdom.
LO: And about your current career?
CH: Today, most of my work is about sharing with you – my dream, that I had, that with just some real trust to life became a real place and also a state of mind.
This is true in all my work as a photographer, storyteller, stylist, writer and creative maker of all kinds of things.
I own my agency Maränghuset (Maranghouse) where we started making magazine articles, but also advertising. I work part-time with my mother who is a marketing consultant, but also a fantastic gardener and great cook, as well as my dad who owns an advertising company based in Sweden.
Everything I enjoy doing, making, look at or eating I turn into my work and make a selling point out of it. As I said – I’m a natural seller at heart and love sharing my ideas. I can’t really help but try new thing all the time.
My studio always changes every week, we often shoot for many projects at once. One part of the studio is the “Etsy-corner”. One corner is for my mother’s shop as well, and the rest keeps changing every so often to anything from food to gardening to layout works or creative recycling.
LO: How has your career as a photographer developed over the years? What have been some of your favourite magazines and newspapers to work with?
CH: I’m completely self-taught. I don’t have any education apart from nine years of school. All the things I do today came from learning in my own way and just trying.
I was told after I already worked a year with food photography that most photographers don’t do food because it is so hard. Good thing I did not know, otherwise my fears might have kept me from trying. And that is the simple lesson that I’m living: always try. Passion for something can get you everywhere!
I never really started out, everything just kept on happening, and when my skills improved, I advanced with better cameras, more space and more props.
My favorite magazine to work with is without a doubt “Allt om Trädgård” Sweden’s biggest garden magazine. They also do a Norwegian and Danish version that my work has been in as well.
I have always done what I want to do. I think that might be a secret as to why it has been a success. I get passionate about new things quite quickly too, so it always grows…
LO: What sort of subjects capture your eye when you’re not working to a brief? How do you approach photography differently in your free time?
CH: Today the best photos are the ones I don’t take – the moment I’m on my own without my cameras – and magic happens.
The last year I have forbidden myself to bring the camera all the time, simply because I stopped enjoying life and just took pictures of everything because anything can be the perfect feeling to make into a memory. So I had to stop.
The family did not approve after a while when we could not eat anything without me shooting it first.
LO: You have an etsy shop called Maranghouse. What do you sell? Where do your products come from and what gave you the idea to start this shop?
CH: Maranghouse sells all Vintage and some handmade items as well.
All the items are from Antique shops and flea markets. Some are from my own childhood. I have collected vintage for as long as I can remember.
Everything I started selling was just old props I had from different food articles. But the shelves kept getting full and I can not really use a dish more than maybe one or two times for a shoot. I felt it could be a great second income for the company to sell the props.
It started with just a few items, then someone fell in love with a rag rug I had gotten for an article, so I sold that and got a new one for a different shoot, but did not have time to use it before another buyer asked if I had more rag rugs. And so, the seller in me started seeing that this would be a great thing to continue, which I did.
LO: You also sell a variety of products in a second shop called MyMomplusMe with a tagline “A place where generations meet.” How do you work together?
CH: My mother is a great inspiration in all my work. She has a fantastic eye for old things, and makes old things into new. So we made a second shop for her, with items she picks out as well as things we make together like pouches and napkins. Everything comes from vintage materials; even the zippers are vintage.
LO: In both Etsy shops, you sell traditional Swedish rag rugs. Tell us a bit about how these are made and the history and importance in Swedish culture.
CH: I did not know that much about them when I started. Rag rugs are such a huge part of Swedish tradition, but also a dying art.
But with the Etsy shops running, I had to pack orders every morning, even staying up in the middle of the night to answer requests from all parts of the world. I have washed more rag rugs then I think most women did in a lifetime in the old days in Sweden. Thankfully, I do not have to wash them in a stream, but most of them in my bathtub. I learned a lot with time, from seeing age and quality. I love the rag rugs as a symbol of great craft. I imagine women all over Sweden, sitting down at night after dinner, humming a song, maybe a folklore one, lighting up candles or kerosene lamps and reusing the old fabrics by weaving them into a long web…a simple yet so special rug.
And I can not help myself but some items just speak to me when I see them, so I do give some of the rag rugs names. A lot of times this is because the person selling them tells me some of the history, but most of the time – just because I truly want them to be loved – because of the hours someone has taken to make these!
I also have in stock a lot of handmade cloths – also such great creations. I feel very proud the more I sell vintage realizing what fantastic people we are when it comes to craft in this country. Sweden makes fantastic glass, pottery, porcelain and metal such as brass items and much more. But the things I love most are the handmade items from private homes, like wood spoons, boxes, hand-woven cloths and rag rugs, not to speak of the amazing tapestries and wall-hangings.
I feel Maranghouse is a tribute to Swedish traditions. It’s a sad thing that almost everything that once was is no more. We don’t make many of the items in Sweden anymore. My big hope in life is that we will start again, because of all the great artists we have the generation that knows how to make these items is soon gone.
LO: Tell us your favorite story or history of one of the pieces you sell in either shop.
CH: I have to say that my favorite story of selling on Etsy is not something I sold, but something I bought myself. And that is a bag of Shepherd’s Tea or Greek Mountain Tea from a Greek shop that was then called Jehny’s kitchen, but today is called TheSpartanTable.
With this sold item, a friendship across countries came to life.
I asked Jehny and George from the shop if they wanted some help with photos – and so they sent me the items from Greece and I shot it all in Sweden. The second shoot for the shop I did with them in Sparta and it is one of the best things I have done both in my professional life as well as my private life. It made me feel that I grew as a person for helping others who want to share produce of the lands.
I love how it made me re-think and really understand how good I am at taking the best of something and making it visual for everyone, at least I hope it has considering how successful their shop has become. Even as entrepreneurs and ambassadors of food, our relationship became about a lot more than just pictures of food.
It is a great power to be a good listener in life, but I’m not one of them. I’m a doer and I see things. A potential see-er; that is a great sell to me.
LO: When you think of Sweden, what first comes to mind when you hear each of the following:
Sight: Tidan – the river that flows into my little village that I walk over two times every day. It is fantastic to look at every time of day, no matter what.
Taste: Breakfast: eggs from our chickens mashed with salt and butter. Also, salt licorice candy.
Sound: Listing to audio books. I tend to do this every day.
Smell: Honeysuckle from the west coast of Sweden and lilac in my garden from the best month of the year in Sweden which is May.
Texture: Rag rugs! Of course!
LO: You photograph food quite often! Do you enjoy cooking or baking? What are some of your favourite Swedish dishes? How about Swedish desserts?
CH: We try to make everything by ourselves. One of the basic things in Maranghouse polices for magazines articles is that we make EVERYTHING from scratch. And that’s how we try to live in everyday life. We don’t eat out much because we need organic food for all of us in the family because of allergies. So I bake bread out of what I happen to find at home. We eat a lot of vegetarian food, a lot of beans and greens and so on…
Simple is always best. I try to take time to harvest a lot of wild edibles as well.
Swedish desserts? Well, we have a lot of fun desserts. The traditional cinnamon bun has a twist in my kitchen using spelt in the dough with rosewater and turmeric and a lot of vanilla with the butter and cinnamon…
I have periods of time when I leave all the cooking to everyone else. This especially happens if we have been creating a lot of food articles. Then I get very stuffed just by looking at food. Because we make all recipes ourselves and have to taste and test and sometimes re-do, it takes a lot of joy out of cooking but it comes and goes and I would say normally I am a true food-lover.
As it is now I’m mainly into blending my own tea and making balms for skincare.
LO: Little Observationist is all about appreciating life’s little luxuries What are some of the little things that you’ve enjoyed recently?
CH: Writing my new book about chickens! Enjoying the gifts of giving them food and them giving us food back in the form of eggs and meat is a true blessing.
And to sit and drink tea is my “big thing” right now, enjoying that perfect homemade chai!
For more from Caroline, see: