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It’s hard to say how much Denmark‘s culture is responsible for this, but there’s a strong sense of mystery commanding the style of many Dane contemporary photographers and lens-based artists: what can’t be seen in the picture, what is suggested, becomes more important than what is visible. Evoking, it seems, is better than showing. Discover who has been putting Denmark on the map of the international photography scene in our list of ten best Danish contemporary photographers.
Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol is an adventurous man. In 1999 he settled down in a remote village in the east of Greenland, where he lived for three years living like a fisherman and a hunter, in addition to taking photographs. In 2005, he spent some time in Guatemala shooting a documentary film about a young Mayan girl’s first encounter with the ocean; he returned to Guatemala in 2006 and documented the life of an indigenous family he stumbled upon. For his latest work, Arrivals and Departures, he followed the Trans-Siberian railway in a journey that has brought him from Moscow to Ulan Bator to Beijing. Sobol never focused on the landscape, however: his photography explores the intimacy of the human being and human relationships, the common ground all men share, regardless of culture and geography.
One of the leading fine art photographers in Denmark and the entire Scandinavian region, Per Bak Jensen’s oeuvre is dominated by the gloomy Nordic landscape which has inspired so many other artists before him. Jensen’s depiction of the nature in front of his camera is devoid of admiration, it doesn’t stem from an appreciation of its beauty. Rather, Jensen photographs its subject clinically, detached, with an infallible eye for composition, as he tries to bring to the surface the secret that underlies nature and, at large, life itself. Jensen’s work is best appreciated in his exhibitions: the large prints that he likes to produce strongly emphasise the mysterious beauty of his images.
Astrid Kruse Jensen has come to the attention of the photographic community with her night photography, and in particular with her work Hypernatural. For this series, Jensen photographed residential swimming pools in Iceland at night time, using available light and long time exposures. The combination of these three factors determined an hyper-saturation of the colours that gives the scene a mysteriously unnatural aura. More recently, in series like Within the Landscape and Disappearing Into the Past, Jensen has put night photography aside to experiment with outdated film; during development, the defected film creates strange and unpredictable chemical reactions which produce ghostly and yet again unnatural aesthetics.
The story of how American Pictures, Jacob Holdt‘s most noted body of work, came about is fascinating. In 1970, a young left-wing activist Holdt was hitch-hiking across the USA from Canada intent on reaching Chile to support Salvador Allende. On his way, however, he observed the daily difficulties the American black community had to endure, and started photographing them with a camera his parents sent him from Denmark. For the next five years, he kept travelling through the States as the guest of both very poor and very wealthy families. American Pictures, the book that resulted from that experience, showed the world, and American population in the raw, and the deep social disparities that divided American society at that time.
Award-winning Klaus Thymann juggles two lives, one as a commercial photographer, the other as a documentary photographer. The former led him to create advertising campaigns for such prestigious and global brands as Nike, Levi’s and Lenovo, to name a few. The latter saw him committed to the making of documentary projects about the most diverse subjects. Hybrids is a look at some quite eccentric cultural hybrids, from snow polo in St. Moritz to gay rodeo in Los Angeles, from underwater striptease in Chile to underground gardening in Tokyo. For his latest work, Project Pressure, Thymann aims at creating a photographic atlas documenting the world’s glaciers retreating because of climate change – to be as prepared as he can, Thymann is studying to earn a degree in Environmental Science.
The practice of photographer Charlotte Haslund-Christensen sits at the crossroads between documentary and anthropology. With her work, Haslund-Christensen invites the viewer to reflect on the many stereotypes and prejudices against minority groups that plague modern societies, and on the role that photography itself has in creating and reinforcing them. For Native: the Danes, Haslund-Christensen has photographed groups of native Danes in the same way that so often non-Western ethnicities become the subject of photographic inspection. Her latest work, Who’s Next?, is a series of fake mugshots of LGBT people: this is how the portrayed individuals would look like if they were arrested in all those countries where homosexuality is persecuted by law.
So diverse are the works of Ebbe Stub Wittrup, a contemporary artist who chose the photographic medium as his main form of expression, that it’s very difficult to categorise his artistic practice. For Night Sky, Wittrup photographed aeroplanes flying across the night sky, leaving their contrails behind. House of Cards is a group of still lifes of coloured cards, inspired by psychoanalyst Max Luscher’s test: the test’s assumption is that a patient’s mental state can be decoded according to the order in which he arranges the cards. Presumed Reality is a collection of snapshots portraying a group of hikers as they advance their way to the top of a mountain, which Wittrup bought at a flea market, digitized and altered slightly but enough to challenge the perception of what one is really seeing. The ability to disorient the viewer is a common trait across Wittrup’s works, and in it lies the photographer’s great talent.
The artistic mission of fine art photographer Trine Sondergaard is not so much to show us something, but to evoke what might be beyond the depicted scene. Such is, for example, the case of her recent work, Strude, a series of portraits of women wearing a mask-like hood – the strude, indeed. Not only are their faces partly concealed, but they also looks away from the camera. In directing them to pose so, Sondergaard is inviting the viewer to consider their mental space rather than the women themselves. Same goes for Interiors, a work that encompasses pictures of interiors of Danish manor houses: the semi-open windows and doors and the corridors stimulate the sensation that there is more to what can be seen in the image.
An excellent portraitist, Torben Eskerod has been using photography to take a glimpse into certain realities and reflect on contemporary society. For Prayer, he photographed a group of retired deaconesses; for Lilliputians, a group of dwarfs performing at the Danish circus Arena; for Cassadaga, a handful of American clairvoyants. The subjects of Friends and Strangers are men aged from 40 to 50, whose up-close portraits unforgivingly show all the signs of their age, raising questions about our idea of masculinity. Eskerod’s latest series, Campo Verano, holds together photographs of the small portraits, disfigured by time, that the photographer observed on the tombstones of a few Italian cemeteries in Rome, which depict the deceased in the tomb. A unique in Eskerod’s production, Campo Verano is less about the subjects and more a reflection on the photographic medium and its memorial function.
Eight World Press Photo Awards, a W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography – one of the most prestigious funds a photographer can aspire to, – an Oskar Barnack Award and a string of other prominent recognitions testify to Jan Grarup‘s talent and professional commitment to photojournalism. Over the last 25 years, Grarup has covered some of the most tragic events of the world’s present history, from the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur to the Intifada wars in Palestine, from the earthquake in Haiti to the recent Central African crisis. Hard and haunting to watch, Grarup’s images still must be seen to face the brutality of war and try to learn from our mistakes.