Interview by Nina Strand
Can you name a particular image that you’ve seen in the near or distant past that remains on your mind today?
It’s a tough question. I automatically start thinking about all the photographs that has stayed with me from when I was studying photography. I looked at images in a different way then, often in books, and would get back to the same images again and again.
But if I have to choose one image, and one that has been with me for a while, it’s the image of the polar bear on the remnant of an iceberg in Svalbard by Arne Nævra from 2005. It’s been widely debated and shown in different contexts, which is one of the things that make the image interesting to me. The photograph was criticized by the so-called Klimarealistene for being manipulated, to support their claims that climate change is not caused by human factors – as if a faked photo would prove that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. In any case, the picture isn’t manipulated, but the false claim about fakery perhaps says something about our relationship with the truth of photographs.
I found the photograph recently again on a postcard in Tromsø with the text ‘Norway’ written on it. There, amidst picturesque motifs of the Northern Lights, mountains and fjords, the picture was used as a sort of advertisement for Norway and spectacular nature. It’s completely absurd. It’s such a symbolic image, but as a postcard it makes me think of Norway as an oil nation, a force that contribute to climate change. Turning the image into an “advertisement”, the postcard comes across as an emblem of Norwegian double standards.
The motivation of the photographer is clear: he’s a nature conservationist, but the image takes new directions outside his control, which makes it even more fascinating.
Nature is also at play on in your current exhibition in Bergen?
Yes, it’s an exhibition in two places, at Entrée and at Trykkeriet, but the fulcrum is the same: the forest that surrounds Bergen. The establishment of The Nature Park in Bergen 150 years ago took place at a time when the forests in Western Norway and elsewhere in the country were in poor condition after vast harvesting and grazing pressure. Targeted tree planting in the mid-1800s was a national project to make forestry more long-term. Today, the forest may come across as something that was always there. When I was invited to do an exhibition in Bergen, I returned to the the idea of engaging with the history of the local forest, something that had been on my mind since I studied there. I decided to combine this with another interest I have: machine-learning and images. I spent several days hiking in the mountains and took a lot of photographs, and teamed up with software developer Sindre Sørensen. We started training a machine-learning tool called StyleGAN, an open-source machine learning tool where two so-called artificial neural networks work together to generate new images. In this case, the networks were trained on my thousands of photographs from the forest.
SKOGSAKEN (The Forest Case)A Two-Part Exhibition at Entrée and 26.4 -2.6.
In our very first issues, we invited different people to write about an image they found memorable, under the headline ’Sinnbilde’. Now, in Objektiv’s 10th year, as the ocean of images continues to swell, we’re reigniting this column online.