University: London College of Communication
Genre: Research Based Contemporary
Artist Statement: The work An Authentic Relation is based on a diary found on the barren and desolate South-Atlantic island of Ascension in 1726. The diary was found to belong to the solider Leenert Hasenbosch, who one year earlier was left as a prisoner on the island as a punishment for sodomy. The diary contains detailed descriptions from the first day of his arrival until the last day of his life, six months later. The book was brought to England and has since been published in several versions; the story has through time been fabricated and twisted several times.
The work presents photographs from journey undertaken by the artist to Ascension Island, accompanied with the original diary; a constellation of documentation, culminating in an overall feeling of distance and displacement, questioning our idea about history, not as fortified facts, but as possible fiction. Through the work, one navigates between text and images, forming an incomplete experience of the story; the immediate apparent gets obliterated and one receives access to a incomparable world – composed by the connections between photography, text and object but separated by history and time.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? There are so many times, I loved studying! Starting my masters was a huge change, and I met so many amazing people with great passion and understanding of the work we were doing. We had in-depth tutorials, and it was really challenging in a way that everything was happening so fast and we had to make changes every week to progress the work. Having that support network around you to keep you going and push your work is priceless. Luckily lots of us are still close friends and meet up and work together. This summer 14 of us had a post-MA show in Berlin, and it was amazing to have everybody in the same place again.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? My projects are in their ways about the photograph it self and its “uselessness”; the impossibility of photographing something back in time and the impossibility of using photography as documentation of happenings that never happened. I touch a lot upon the things that we cannot see with our eyes, being an issue of time or distance, and explore a lot around how photography came into place to being such an important documenter of these things, with the same limitations as we have our selves.
How did An Authentic Relation come to fruition? How did you hear about the diary and why did you want to make a body of work based around it? I came across the story in a sentence in a history book, and something triggered me to read more about it. I was very fascinated by the thought of the island Ascension itself. As I went on to research the story I realised that the diary had been published over and over again and it was challenging to find the original source. I came across books debating whether the story in fact was real or not, going in great depths of researching into the flora and fauna, ship logs and others of the time to match it with the writing of the diary. The uncertainty of text as a tool of documentation made me further think about the “flaws” of the photograph, the single most “trusted” tool to document history today. So I eventually flew over the Ascension and spent some time there and photographed the places that were talked about in the book. The happenings took place three hundred years ago, but the island still looks so similar, it is really small and very easy to recognise some of the places that he talks about. Of course, sometimes I was not sure whether I made that up or not.
What camera did you shoot this work on and is this your preferred choice? This project was shot on a mix between my Wista large format camera and my Mamiya RZ. Usually I shoot on large format, but for this series I ended up doing most with media format, mainly because of physical challenges; wind, mountain climbing, challenging and changing weather. And in a book form that works very well.
During your post-university life you've received a great deal of support through funding and residencies; do you have any advice for graduates seeking this kind of help? It is so helpful receiving support like this and I have kept investing everything I receive into new work. The first grants I got were of course smaller ones, but I made sure to invest them into high quality framing and production, which gave me something to refer to when applying for larger funds. I used to apply for funding I knew I would never get, but it gave me a chance to focus and sharpen my work and also to get to know the procedures and structure of each grant. Sometimes it takes a couple of goes, but eventually lots of things comes though.
What visually influences your work? There are so many other artists that inspire me in different ways, lots of photography but also lots of sculpture and installation based art. It keeps changing all the time, but I am loving sharp, particular imagery. The approaches to photography itself has inspired me a lot - the pseudo documentary and scientific qualities that the photograph holds. And a fascination for its shortcomings, I like working in, and getting inspiration from, environments that are completely unknown and unfamiliar to me.
As there have been many reprints of the story on Leenert Hasenbosch; how did you discover the original one? I don’t know where the original diary is, in fact no one knows. This is part of what triggered me when first coming across the text. It is hard to tell which edition is the original one, and although small differences, there are details that makes the history come out in different ways in each edition. A couple of versions claim to be the right one, and there have been detailed research into which ones seem more feasible – discussing vegetation and animals described as well as small events in the diary.
You've mentioned that post university your peers and yourself managed to get together again to hold an exhibition. How was your experience of exhibiting with this group after university, and what tips can you give to others wanting to continue exhibiting in a group? It was great. We did it three years after graduating so there has been some time in between. It was a really good excuse to meet everyone and catch up with what we are doing, as most of us are spread around Europe now. Of course, we have all gone in different directions since, and curatorially it was a little challenging. I also think the organisers in Berlin got a big load of the work, so it is well worth having a lot of time to plan and make things come together from different places around. It is key that participants are keen to work to put something together and are willing to work for it. But – it’s great when it's up. We are planning a tour of the show now to other cities in Europe, so once done, it is easier to show it other places too!
As you say, photography has its limitations; how do you plan to make work based around something that has already happened or may not exist? How do you photograph, in your own words, “things we cannot see with our eyes”? I suppose all my work in one way or another touches on the limitations of the photograph and its uselessness. The works are challenging the photograph it self in different ways, and the questions are pointed towards the ways the photograph offprint reality, and more important, how the viewers relate and correspond to it.
In order to come to any conclusion about the photograph's role as a conveyor of truth, artists are often, where scientists use rationality or objectivity to come to a conclusion, employing imagination in the hope of evoking reality. In my most resent works I explore the relationship between history and time, highlighting this friction and tension between the two, by the use of photography with its "inferior status" as referencing material. In specific, An Authenthic Relation is about the impossibility of recording the past, with particular notion to the use of photography documenting something that took place 300 years ago, before the photograph’s own existence, almost as a prehistoric reference to itself. So in the end the objective is to question our idea about history and documentation, not as fortified facts, but as possible fiction; by challenging the viewers understanding on how information is organised.
Can you tell us more about your recent series Your Penumbra? The work Your Penumbra is based on an event taking place on September 30th 1880, when the amateur astronomer Henry Draper became the very first to photograph the Orion Nebula after spending decades refining his self built telescopes and photographic technique. For the first time the photograph was showing something that could not be seen with the human eye. Regardless, eminent scientists and astronomers of the time still maintained that photography would never replace the human eye as a tool to study the stars.
Now, through an inverted contemporary aspect, I am feeling a claustrophobic impossibility of ever being able to see these starscapes and distant galaxies with the naked eye. It is just simply too far away for any human being to ever experience. Through the work Your Penumbra I am presenting stardust photograms displaying a starry sky and empty space created by placing real star dust on photographic paper before exposing it to light, creating large scale photograms. The work also contains a dual screen video showing the slow birth of a nebula and black geometrical sculptures presenting a close up abstract view of a constellation.
Has your way of working changed since completing your degree? If so, tell us how and whether it's for the better. Mostly, I suppose it has changed in the way projects need to be time managed. When studying we have this great opportunity of focusing mainly on one specific project, whilst now I also have to focus on other commissions that brings in income. Saying that, I am receiving more funding to produce work now, so I am also able to take the work a little further. But – I tend to work on projects for a long time, and often they keep evolving. When studying the work is usually finished after the degree show, but now specific work often keeps developing from show to show. What I really miss though is my peers and feedback; after university there are less people around to give you feedback and help, we are all spread to different towns and everybody is really busy. So I really value the people that I still keep in touch with and are able to bounce ideas off. On the same level – lectures, libraries and sources of research are not laid out for you – not saying that they don’t happen, it just takes a little more to navigate and get around when doing research.
As you’ve created photobooks, what is your favourite photobook by another artist? Oh, there are so many! I went to this book shop in Tokyo last week, and they had hundreds and hundreds of photobooks, many in rare and limited editions, there is so much to the unique production of these books, many with small touches like different use of paper, printing, slip cases and so on.
Boomberg & Chanarin’s fig. is a classic and one of the first books that made me see the power of the order and sequencing of a book. Over the last couple of years there has been so many amazing books being published, amongst my favourites being Freddy Dewe Mathews’s A Cultural History of an Isolated Landmass, Awoiska Van der Molen’s Sequester, Aleix Plademount’s Almost There, Regine Petersen’s Find a Fallen Star, Johan Rosenmunthe’s Tectonic. Although I haven’t seen it myself yet, Peter Puklus’ new book The Epic Love Story of a Warrior looks great, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on it.
Not quite a photobook, but I was given a special edition copy of the magazine mono.kultur as a gift, featuring the work of Taryn Simon. It came in a really nice package and included the original magazine with a collection of prints to go with it for the reader to attach themselves, as well as 10 plates from A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.
What piece of advice would you give to either a student or graduate of photography? Basically – things take time, and it is a good thing. I am rather impatient sometimes and I really want things to happen straight away. But – there has been times when I have applied for funding and exhibitions without being successful, and then look back at it, most of the time realizing that the work wasn’t quite ready. In such a case I just work a bit more on it and apply again. I also think it is really good taking the time making new work when graduating, and developing your own route and focus. I see a lot of students gaining massive success from their graduation projects and struggle to keep up with the success later – I believe it is more important staying true to your practice and don’t make sacrifices, even though it will make your way a bit quicker. So – summed up, slow and steady approach to your work is in the long run worth is weight in gold.
Do you have a plan in mind for your next photographic project? If not, what would be your dream project? At the moment I am quite busy with exhibition production for the spring with four different shows coming up, as well as a commission for a book that gets published in March. I am also working on a book and exhibition in collaboration with Dan Mariner which will be published in the new year. But – I am really excited about starting some new work, I love the researching face of a project, and spend a long time alongside everything else doing that. I have just recently started research for a new project, but it’s a bit early to talk about the development yet.. But – I have a feeling it will be a really long term body of work…