In the midst of launching his latest, long-awaited book, Torbjørn Rødland takes the time to answer six questions on his work.
Nina Strand: Congratulations on Confabulations! This book presents, as you write, "a set of analogue photographs that subtly misrepresents broken memories and childhood fantasies”. You’ve told us in a previous interview that the images in I Want To Live Innocent from 2008 were created with a publication in mind, and that you’d later make exhibitions from more pointed selections, which was also the method for Vanilla Partner from 2012. Was this the case with Confabulations?
Torbjørn Rødland: The solo show I just opened in Zürich presents one edit of – or take on – the material in Confabulations. The images weren’t made with a book in mind, but I enjoy grouping and sequencing them. Seeing how they influence each other makes me understand each photograph better. It also helps me understand the photographer.
NS: We printed your Sentences on Photography in our fifth issue. If you were to do a rewrite, would it be very different?
TR: I’d probably change the title to Sentences on Transconceptual Photography, and that in itself would necessitate a rewrite. A new version might have been more precise but probably also a less accessible read. So I’ll leave it untouched.
NS: We’d be happy to receive the rewrite. In an interview with Kristian Skylstad for Kunstkritikk last year, you mentioned a journal project that may turn into a book, with text only. Is this upcoming?
TR: Ah, my 2013 journal. I’ll re-read it this summer. I haven’t yet reached out to a single publisher so it might still take a while before this goes to print. A part of me believes it’s better to wait.
NS: We have an overall title for this year's issues: The Flexible Image. These issues will look at the current state of the photographic image, as it seems to expand into two distinct, yet related manifestations: the image as text/sign versus the image as operation. What are your thoughts on this?
TR: What can I say? I don’t relate very much to these keywords. I’ve stopped thinking about photography as text. I’m more involved in the new ability to read images symbolically that’s developing among young people. Simple images are of course integrated within gestural operations, but rather than functional screen icons, I’m interested in complex readings of layered visual messages.
NS: Confabulations, I am a photograph, Sasquatch Century, Vanilla Partner, Andy Capp Variations, White Planet Black Heart, I Want to Live Innocent … I’m impressed by your titles. How do you come up with them?
TR: I collect these words and combinations of words in a little book and when a title is needed I look at that list.
NS: I've just re-read the essay ‘The Caption’ by Nancy Newhall, published in the first issue of Aperture in 1952. She claims that “photograph-writing” might become “the form through which we shall speak to each other, in many succeeding phases of photography for a thousand years or more.” And that: “Perhaps the old literacy of words is dying and a new literacy of images is being born.” Do you think this has happened?
TR: The new literacy of images that arise from, say, Instagram, is based in an identification with bodies and relationships unlike one’s own. These transpluralistic devotional images represent an important step up from the surface irony of Lolcats. So yes, the image culture is evolving, but photography will never replace “the literacy of words”. This sounds to me like a naïve idea from the modern era.
Torbjørn Rødland will be in conversation with Dr Mark Godfrey, Senior Curator, Tate Modern, followed by a book signing, 21 June, 7–8pm at Waterstones, 203– 206 Piccadilly, London, and with Finn Skårderud at Tronsmo in Oslo on 1 July.