Finding wonder, fantasy in Emma Wondra’s photos

Wondra’s ethereal photos combine bright colors while challenging traditional beauty standards.

Courtesy of Emma Wondra.

Courtesy of Emma Wondra.

Ksenia Gorinshteyn

One of Emma Wondra’s favorite photography technique involves broken glass bottles rather than just a change of lighting. 

She’ll shatter the bottles on her quest to find the perfect shard, which she’ll then hold in front of the camera lens. The result is a work of art with texture and layers rather than another model-photography image to scroll past on Instagram. 

Wondra’s striking work is colorful, whimsical and intimate. Each shoot brings to light every form of beauty. 

“I love capturing raw, honest and emotive things,” Wondra said.

She began photographing nature in 2010 but found that it didn’t satisfy her interests and aesthetics in the way she wanted. “I felt happier photographing themes that challenge beauty standards and are thought-provoking,” she said.

Among her portfolio of work, an Instagram profile with over 12,000 followers, glamorous pink-toned portraits sit next to dark and mysterious ones.

“I want my photos to look multi-dimensional,” Wondra said. “I want it to kind of look like a fantasy, whether it’s a pleasant one or a kind of creepy, delicate one.”

The photos are detailed, but Wondra’s process is simple. Most of her photos are taken against plain backgrounds or in the woods. She uses whatever is available to her as props. 

“The end product, the editing and how she’s able to piece things together is so impressive,” said Jack Kalvser, Wondra’s partner. “She sees things that other people don’t see, and she’s able to take something and make it work. [Wondra] just sees things way more different than you or I.”

Katrina Haugen, a friend of Wondra’s who has worked with her many times, echoed Kalvser. Haugen modeled for Wondra in a shoot where they walked until stumbling upon a pile of trash, where Wondra decided that was where they would shoot. She directed Haugen by telling her how to interact with the empty milk jugs and other garbage in the photos. Surprisingly, it worked. 

“It’s just so organic, the way that she sees things,” Haugen said. “She just puts it all together. You can’t plan it.”

Many Minneapolis-based artists may recognize a few of the models in her work, like local musicians Bailey Cogan of 26 BATS! and Nadirah McGill of Gully Boys. Many of the photos include queer and non-binary folks and people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. However, some of Wondra’s favorite works are her self-portraits.

In one photo set, she’s pictured against a dark background and is wrapped in a towel with shaving cream on her face. She holds a shaving razor in a few of the photos, and in others, she’s intently staring into the lens of her camera. 

“I just feel so fierce and powerful and empowering,” Wondra said. “A lot of those self-portraits are also ways for me to process emotions. If I’m feeling a certain way or going through some kind event in my life and I need help processing those emotions, I turn to photography and self-portraits.”

Wondra’s focus on inclusivity and beauty in all forms makes her work both personal and relatable. 

“Given the amount of talent that [Wondra] has, and the visionary that she is, it’s so important and it’s awesome that she is being inclusive because she’s making images that are fine art,” Haugen said.

Wondra’s eye for fantasy, in tandem with her goal of creating a sense of comfort for her models during each shoot, is what makes her art so eye-catching.

“I want each shoot of mine to be very personal,” Wondra said. “I don’t want any of my shoots to ever be plain and unintentional. It’s all very unapologetic.”