Jovana Rikalo’s Fairy-Tale World Resonates with New Audiences

All images by Jovana Rikalo. Used with permission.

“I live for magic and dreams. I find inspiration everywhere, but mostly in life and people,” says fine art and portrait photographer Jovana Rikalo about her fun and whimsical fairy-tale photography. Passionate about dreams, life, and folklore, Jovana says photography keeps her both alive and happy. Her fun approach and clever setups are designed to transport audiences “away from worries and routines of a daily life.” Jovana says, “I think that every photo must have a story in order to be complete. There is no story without emotion.”

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The Phoblographer: What inspires you?

Jovana Rikalo: Life! Every situation that happens, everything I see and feel I try to make into a photo, but in a more fairy-tale scene. I love to dream and think all the time, and I trained myself to always be inspired somehow.” 

The Phoblographer: There are obvious references to popular fairy tales. What drew you to this as a subject?

Jovana Rikalo: I really love fairy tales! You can [see] that by looking at my photos. Last year, my dreams came true, and I worked with Disney. It was so magical!

The Phoblographer: Tell us about the scale of the production required to get these incredible shots?

Jovana Rikalo: First, I must think about the concept and what I am [going to] create. This takes around two or three days. In that period of time, I am looking for models, locations, props, and thinking about hair and make-up. It takes around a week to finalize everything. After I settle down all [the] important elements, I plan a photoshoot day based on our availability. [A] photoshoot lasts around 4.5-hours, and editing really depends – sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes three or four hours. It depends on how complex ideas and manipulation are.

The Phoblographer: Do you have a favorite image or signature effect?

Jovana Rikalo: I have a few… pastel tones and [a] dreamy finish. People recognize my photos based on emotions and fairy tales.

The Phoblographer: What’s the most daring or adventurous shoot you have orchestrated?

Jovana Rikalo: When outside is too cold, rainy or windy. That is always so challenging. Also, when working with new animals. You don’t know how animals are [going to] react when they see dresses, models and props. That’s why I always love to bring [in[ the owner of the animal to be with them and [for] the animal to be safe. Everyone must be comfortable on that day.

I know what feeling I want to awaken in people’s minds.

The Phoblographer: You also work with editorial clients. Tell us about that process? Do you demand full artistic control?

Jovana Rikalo: It really depends. Most of them gave me freedom because they know the image is gonna look good at the end, and they trust my vision. Some of them follow the brand language and follow trends and that is totally fine to me. 

The Phoblographer: What gear do you use?

Jovana Rikalo: I use Canon 5D Mark IV, Sigma 35mm f1.4 art, Sigma 105mm f1.4, and Canon 135mm f2.0 lenses the most. I also use additional lights if needed, but most of the time, I work with natural light. 

The Phoblographer: How much of what we see in the finished product is added in post-production?

Jovana Rikalo: I’d say real is 70% and added 30%. I love to add smoke [and] additional props to make the image more interesting and [more like] how I imagined in my head.

The Phoblographer: Your work has been viewed thousands of times online and is published in magazines all over the world. How does the acclaim and recognition motivate you as an artist?

Jovana Rikalo: When I started this job, I said to myself, I will be so happy to only have 300 people follow me. I still can’t feel this number – it is huge – and this only means that people love interacting with me and my stories; they found each other in every piece and, to me, that is the goal I wanted from the very beginning. 

The Phoblographer: What other projects, stories, or fables are you working on next?

Jovana Rikalo: More workshops, holding speeches, using more complex scenes, books and many more.

The Phoblographer: Has COVID-19 given you any time off to contemplate new ideas?

Jovana Rikalo: No. I started looking at things differently. I was taking some self-portraits and planning other stuff, I wasn’t sitting and waiting for this to end. We all needed a big pause, for ourselves and our job. 

The Phoblographer: What would you say was your biggest, most elaborate shoot to date?

Jovana Rikalo: [The] Disney shoot! This was a dream coming true!

The Phoblographer: And the most fun you’ve ever had on set?

Jovana Rikalo: When working with animals. They are the cutest, and I don’t prepare too much because you can’t force animals to pose; you have to listen to them.

The Phoblographer: Good triumphs evil (mostly) in fairy tales, but there is still usually an element of darkness in those stories. Do you intentionally try to leave out threatening or negative elements? What feelings do you hope your images will evoke?

Jovana Rikalo: I plan the concept, always, in advance. I know what feeling I want to awaken in people’s minds. Even when telling the deepest stories, I add [a] fairy-tale touch in dresses, props, or color tones. 

See more of Jovana’s most recent work on her website here, or follow @jovanarikalo on Instagram. If you like this style of work, you’ll enjoy reading about Kilian Schoenberger‘s Brother’s Grimm fairy-tale-inspired landscapes on The Phoblographer.

Sarah Cornwell

Sarah Cornwell is an experienced magazine editor and journalist, based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her career started as an assistant to a freelance photojournalist while completing various practical photography and black & white printing short courses. Sarah later moved into publishing and, as a travel industry specialist, has enjoyed discovering many interesting people and places. A skilled interviewer, Sarah recently qualified as a social media marketer through the University of Cape Town and has an extra special interest in the outdoors, nature and wildlife photography. Sarah is a trail runner and Mom to two young children and a growing number of animals.