Interview for Sony
Many of the works you have made seem to have a certain phenomenological approach to landscapes photography. There are bursts of light in different permutations that suggest an affinity towards capturing the ephemeral and passing nature of landscape and atmosphere along with a very specific use of color. Can you elaborate on the synthesis of this arrangement between atmosphere and use of color in the works?
Having a fascination for the spellbinding powers that lies within a sunset we started back in 2009 to photographically deconstruct it. Looking for clues to the power we became fascinated in the spectrum of colors the sunset produces. Later on we started going around applying colors of that spectrum; red-pink-yellow-blue, using a simple on-camera flash; trying to transfer that magic of the sunset to various scenes and objects.
Since then we are often carrying out basically the same idea but now we are also more interested in the act and rituals of taking a photograph. In our series The Belt of Venus and The Shadow of the Earth we are
trying to camouflage rock formations by the shoreline into the sunset behind, using a flash and filters, obviously failing. The fact that the stone really were magically glowing in this sunset-colors for a 1/1000 of a second and we couldn’t even see it happening there at the moment is fascinating. The actual short moment when the shutter is pressed, the flash goes off and the camera with it´s mechanical nature translates and transforms the physical reality into a photographic one, is something that we are fascinated by and have worked a lot with. The photograph becomes not just a product or a proof of the performative act of coloring the rocks but in itself a little piece of magic.
For this project we worked in a very similar way but with the Aurora Boralis.
How does the spectrum of color in the work present a challenge in technically achieving your desired image?
In the case of the two aurora borealis-like photographs, the sky (and the wind) needed to be good, and it is so for at most 20 minutes at dusk and dawn. The sky being good, has to do both with the colors in the sky and also technically, that the light has to be perfect in intensity: dark enough for our flash to out knock out the remaining daylight but light enough for the camera at 1/160s (which is the shortest flash-sync time on the Sony camera) to render the scene as evening and not black night. We hand-hold different kind of filters we have made in front of the flash, moving the filter a centimeter in either direction completely alters the outcome. It means a little wind puff makes a lot of difference. If we do 20 exposures they will all be totally different from each other and the results are nearly impossible to repeat.
We do maybe 50 shots until the sky is ruined by darkness or light of day, if we feel that we got the shot we are done, if we feel we didn’t get what we wanted we stay some 12 hours nearby until the next 20 minutes of perfect sky.
One of the most intriguing parts of working with photography and also one of the things that makes it so uncontrollable and hard, is that if you want a picture of a green bucket and a mountain you have to actually physically find a green bucket and bring that to a mountain, there’s no way around that. The whole outcome then depends on what kind of mountain and what kind of bucket you happen to find.
We always head out with a set of ideas of what we are going to do and what the results are going to be.
Working with photography outside reality is always going to mess with those ideas, it is a constant negotiation between where we want to take the work and what reality decides to do with it, winds blow, clouds comes and goes, mountains or trees obstruct the view etc. Understanding that it is virtually impossible to be in control can be both frustrating and liberating. The photographs are always a result of a collaboration between the two of us, the nature, the elements and the camera.
Does the cold and barren landscape present a condition of comfort or discomfort for you when making these images? Was this location a destination that you had picked as ideal and if so, for what reasons?
We have been drawn to work in these kind of environments for quite some time now, from the beginning it had to do with an interest in humans urges to visit this kind of “untouched” nature, we had theories about the need for reconnection etc. After spending time in places like Iceland we ironically developed our own needs to go there over and over again.
We like to operate between the mystic and natural. It is something about the rawness of these black, jagged mountains and inhospitable nature that attracts us. We often talk about this kind of sceneries being Death Metal, and meaning that in a positive way, there’s no risk of the work getting too cute.
Also our process is usually pretty time-consuming and slow, we are out working for months and if everything goes well we return with a handful pieces. This time we set out to do 10 or 12 photographs in a week which meant there were no failing time or time to go explore unknown territories. We have been to Iceland 3 times before and knew that we would be able to produce there. Island is pretty compact, the scenery and weather changes often, we knew there would be tourists there and so on.
The terrain is often vague and perhaps alien to many people. I am curious as your experience when working in the vast white expanse of this terrain during daylight and the difference it presents at night being potentially more oppressed by the heaven’s above, yet potentially less snowblinded by the conditions of daytime light and the compression of the horizon.
For this project we are revisiting the Watching Humans Watching series that we finished up in mid 2011. That series had a documentary approach and was shot daytime, since then we haven’t really been working in broad daylight. So this felt great for us, all of a sudden we had all this time to work again. When everything is big and white it becomes somewhat a non-place, just a projection space for anything really.
At night the world turns into a huge studio, and the photographs becomes clean and focused. The darkness makes it easier in the sense that it is a constant, and harder in the sense that it becomes much more about scrutinising since there is never going to be more than one or a couple of objects in the frame. Also it can be hard just to walk around and keeping track of where you are, where you parked the car, where the batteries are and things like that. Usually we go around and try to plan everything out in daylight beforehand to rationalise the process.
The use of the solitary figure within the landscape in a several of the photographs reminds one greatly of Caspar David Friedrich and German romanticism. Perhaps even American Romanticism. Is there a correlation for you when you work between the grand traditions of these themes and your photographic practice or is it the complicit use of location that enables this?
Well, in one way of course we lend thematically and certainly visually, that is no coincidence.
However we are not working so much with the romantics directly as we are working with the heritage from (among others) them, the constant stream of landscape photographs and nature imagery that is now everywhere. How that stream have formed our own view on the landscape and expectations on what nature is. Our solitary figures are tourists and we are interested in what it is that drive them there and what happens to them emotionally when facing this grand sceneries. What their relationship are to this landscape that they probably have seen it hundreds of times on a screen, but are visiting it for the first time. We (humans) obviously still have a need to be in the big wild and to experience nature first hand. But we find it interesting that we now also have a need to photograph these scenes ourselves, even if they already have been photographed to exhaustion. In one of the essays in our book Jonas Larsen (Ph.D. Roskilde University) talks about “the ritual of quotation ” which basically means the tourists tracking down and capturing images they have seen, and then at home showing their own version as a kind of a proof that they have been there.
The trajectory of the Northern Landscape (I am assuming these are in Sweden or the Artic) presents a potential anachronism in the sense of using photography as a tool for new frontiers in a world where much of our world’s geography has been mapped ad infinitum. Yet within your works, the landscapes, glacial ice shoves, and desolate rocky outcrops become discreet places without cartographic entity. What I mean to say is that they offer no information as to their specificity. Does this attraction to travel photography attract you generally?
For us traveling is the way we work, as you say we are not explorers on a mission to show new corners of the world. It has to do with us working with landscapes but perhaps even more with the kind of inspiration and chance to work undisturbed that traveling gives us. At home in the city there is all this work and distractions, preparing for shows, sending files, answering emails, eating dinner here and going to someones birthday party there. Getting away from that everyday life and all the responsibilities is crucial for us when getting actual work done.
And within this notion of travel photography and non-specificity of place, does the nominal idea of “sense of place” become a measure of pictorial practice within photography or that of photography and landscape as a referent for transmitting new territories?
Photography has a lot of uses and of course is a great tool to very accurately describe the physical world and we can make more or less accurate conclusions and assumptions from reading a photograph.
However loolking at our work we make a difference between the physical world and the photographic world, the photograph is not a piece of reality but a piece of photography. Once the camera has taken care of the transition into the photographic world, for us the photograph has very little to do with the physical world. That makes the photographs connection to place complicated for us as strong geographical references clouds the reading of the photograph and makes it to be about place, which lies in the physical world. Of course we neither can or would not ever want to not flee from the nature of the medium, but we can at least try to control the reading of the photograph by minimizing geographical referenses as much as it is possible.