It has been a year full of meetings with interesting people. I have for example been taking portraits of a very charismatic Anna Maria Corazza Bildt when she promoted her new book at Gothenburg Book Fair; Michael McGrath, COO at Stena Line; and Volvo’s director Mats Boll at a quite dangerous location at the Scandia harbor with trucks driving by very close.
The Faroese company Skansi Offshore just moved into their new premises and CEO Jens Meinhard Rasmussen proudly showed me around before I unpacked my equipment and started to take photos of the staff and owners Tummas and Osmund Justinussen. The challenge here was to reflect a nice atmosphere and get the staff’s attention despite the new, rather large desks and towering drawers occupying dominant positions. The view from the office was absolutely stunning with some ships passing by during my photo session.
My latest portrait is of Gunilla Almgren, president of the UEAPME, the European Union of Crafts and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. She is highlighting the critical importance of small businesses in job creation, economic growth, and social stability in Sweden and Europe.
One of the most noted Faroese designers is Barbara í Gongini (above). Nominated for three categories in this year’s Dansk Fashion Awards, Ms. í Gongini is known for her experimental style and originality. The organizers of the major Danish fashion event describe Ms. í Gongini as “a Nordic brand based on a conceptual approach to the process, where experiments with forms provide the setting for the visual motive in the design. Barbara í Gongini creates clothing which is at the leading edge of the trade.
Other clothing designers are Guðrun & Guðrun, Elisa Heinesen, Jóhanna av Steinum, Malan á Lofti, Soul Made, Sirri and Elsa Bech. Inspiration for the traditional Faroese designs has always come from daily life and the magnificent Faroese nature and 5 000 or even more Faroese women knit in their spare time—that’s 10 to 15 percent of the entire population of the Faroe Islands. Many of them blends artistry with business, national tradition with international trends — and I just love Jóhanna av Steinum’s strong colours and eye-catching patterns. Her designs are humorous, speckled with a hint of childish naivety.
Malan á Lofti
Jóhanna av Steinum
After almost eighteen years of storage, the negatives from my project ‘The Siege of Sarajevo’ were finally brought up to daylight this autumn. I felt excitement when I opened the cases — all memories from this unbelievable journey returned and reminded me of one of the most horrifying crimes against humanity in our modern time.
My Bosnian War photos focused on how civilians survived in the besieged capital city Sarajevo in Bosnia Herzegovina. From 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 the Serbs blockaded the city and the siege lasted three times longer than the Siege of Stalingrad, for example, and a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad. It was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare.
I portrayed artists who also became my friends when I faced the reality that I also was cut off from the outside world in the summer of 1994. It was too dangerous to use the ‘UN air corridor’ for me and the other journalists and aid workers. I never forgot our long intellectual discussions and spontaneous parties when we drank and sang together. The artists and families I got to know were very strong mentally to be able to joke and laugh — simply trying to continue with their everyday life. I also did a photo essay on orphans and their daily struggle to go to school despite the risk of being shot by snipers. These children became innocent victims as most of them had lost their parents because of the war. One girl showed me the third floor of the orphans’ building which was not only damaged from attacks but also emptied of furniture and other wooden materials that the children could use for heating during the cold winters. Tragically, figures estimate that over 1500 children died during the war or were reported missing, with over 15,000 children wounded.
We all feel things when we’re kids without really knowing what those things mean. As a photographer, a similar sense of feelings inevitably surfaces in your work. When it comes to creating portraits, more engagement is involved as you’re seeking to portray another person’s inner universe. The idea of capturing that person’s essence is fascinating and can result in captivating portraits that either reveal old secrets or hint at new mysteries.
When I take a photograph, I never bother to direct my model into a position they don’t feel comfortable with. Instead, I’m looking for “something else” while also trying to respect the creative force. I don’t know if that “something” is going to appear but if I prepare the stage and my models on the location, we can all work together for the “right” decisive moment. (above: Eivör Pálsdóttir)
I was on board the Bakur and Stelkur, two of the seafood company Faroe Origin’s six trawlers, taking pictures. Through the ‘Cuba Trawlers’ which were replaced a few years ago, the boats connect with an intriguing history that goes back to the early 1970s. That history includes pioneering work on saithe fishing and pair trawling, a technique originally developed to save fuel during the oil crises of 1973 and 1979.
My idea of the project “Ocean Fishing” was to give readers the opportunity to hear the fishermen’s point of view and I think the photos portray more direct and emotionally than text the reality of fishermen’s daily hard work and such things as team spirit and satisfaction or frustration.
Afterward I would edit from thousands of photos from these six fishing photo essays, and later I would edit down some 200 photos for the production of my book “Images of Fishermen: The North Atlantic”.
A couple of years later I enlarged 30 selected photos from the book for a travel exhibition, “Ocean Fishing – Six Trips on the North Atlantic” initiated by the Swedish-Faroes Society, with the Nordic Culture Fund as main sponsors. Both the book “Images of Fishermen” and the exhibition “Ocean Fishing” were successful and the exhibition has been showing at six museums and institutions in the Nordic countries in the last four years.
Read more on www.imagesoffishermen.com
I really have a fascination with biotech, microbiology and cell biology. If it wasn’t for all the maths, I probably would apply for evening classes one day. Fortunately, I still can get a glimpse of this hidden world by photographing companies and for the Faroese Ministry of Trade and Industry and a business magazine, I photographed researchers working at the Aquaculture Research Station in the Faroe Islands.
The Faroese have a long had ongoing research in fish genetics, especially with regard to aquaculture but more lately also in the context of wild fish. While efforts at the Aquaculture Research Station have focused on, for example, adding consistency to salmon meat, one of the current projects at the Faroe Marine Research Institute is about deciphering whether the silver smelt stock fished in Faroese waters is genetically distinct from silver smelt populations found elsewhere.
In these photos of researchers working at the Aquaculture Research Station I changed the camera’s white balance to tungsten.The SB-900 flashes include colored filters to match tungsten and fluorescent light and here I used the warming filter to give healthier face expressions to mix with the photos overall bluish, clinic atmosphere.
I just love food, no question about that — and I really enjoy to photograph food and see it as a challenge to highlight the food’s originality and freshness. I got an opportunity a few months ago to take portraits of chef Leif Sörensen, one of the co-founders of the New Nordic Food manifesto, and his exciting dishes. It is really the coolest concept in the world of fine cuisine, the idea to combine regional culture with the more specific domestic heritage. Over the years Leif Sörensen developed his own Faroese version of New Nordic Food while spreading the message of cultural authenticity and genuineness as essential elements of gourmet cooking. He thinks the Faroese universe of fermented food is unique and offers great possibilities.
When I photographed the starter dryfish chips with gran mayonnaise, I wanted to highlight the chips’ shape and texture so I reduced my main light source a couple of stops and let the bouncer spread smaller with the help of black canvas. Then I took two SB600 flashguns with Honl speed snoot and carefully placed one of them back of the chips and the other one in front of the shrimp and mayonnaise. The light was quite hard but that only enhanced the chips’ structure, the wooden basket and the rough but cool decoration.
The next dish I photographed was fermented fish, dryfish foam with pickled mushrooms. The light from the bouncer was softer compared to the light used for the previous dish, and placed behind the dish and on the right hand side. Because of the hard wooden table, the structure of the dried fish and a shadow effect from the bowl, the overall impression became quite hardish but still with soft details in the foam.
Breaded sheep’s head with berries is another example of a Faroese gourmet dish and it’s also one of Leif’s favorite creations. When I edited the photos afterwards, I discovered that my favorite pic of a portrait of Leif didn’t have quite the same freshness on the dish that he was holding compared to another shoot we did ten minutes later when he replaced the berries with new ones. The photo had a perfect dish without any spill from the berries but in the same time I didn’t like Leif’s expression. Any idea what I did? Well, I simply selected the dish I liked in photoshop, copied the selection and pasted that dish shot selection into the photo in which Leif’s expression was great, by moving the “new dish” carefully over the old one and cloned away color stains from the spill over and adjusted the shadows. Et voila
The transformation from film to digital was indeed painful for me (as, I suspect, for many others). It took some years before Nikon had a product that could compare with film in terms of quality. Ever since the announcement of the Nikon D1H and D1X back in 2001 Nikon’s professional D ‘single digit’ series has been split into two — the X series designed for high resolution applications such as fashion or landscape photography and the H series for high speed sports type photography.
I chose high resolution for my camera and today I’m sitting with a Nikon D3X with its amazing resolution of 24.5 megapixels (6,048 x 4,032 pixels). According to KenRockwell.com not only has the D3X more resolution, it has better quality in JPG than Canon’s very best shooting in raw. Finally after so many years I can give my clients photos that can be enlarged to wall sized prints.
Everything takes time, even in the shooting process — to focus on the right expressions or moment. For me many things go into the creation of a good image. I believe everything from beautiful lighting, graphic details, a surprising element — or a sense of vulnerability can make a photograph interesting and stand out from the rest. Some rules are good ones, like the rule of thirds. But like all rules, you have to break it every once in a while.
Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are the tangible elements that I have at my disposal and that are driven by the science of light. Most of the time I’m in aperture priority mode because I’d rather be certain of my f-stop and the depth of field that I’m getting than knowing the exact shutter speed. Slower shutter speed frequently brings the image to life more than pictures taken with action-freeze and fast shutter speed.
When I’m doing portraits with my Carl Zeiss 85 mm lens (1.4) I play around with high aperture to highlight the person’s character and to get blurred backgrounds. The result is many times outstanding and the manual focus gives me consistent and beautiful colors, clarity and sharpness. If I want shorter depth of field and to isolate my subject even more, I take my Nikon 105 mm AF Micro which so far has given me excellent results in both portraits and product photography.
Another important detail in my work is the wireless flash system I use for creating interesting shadow effects or just to improve or simulate available light. When I’m triggering my SU-800 unit, I can shoot the very directional and linear triggering impulse to my SB-900 flash units, which can be placed beside and/or behind the subject to lighten up different parts or details — or even outside a window, if needed.
Even though photography has little to do with technique, my camera models have always created different moods during the years. First, I started with a Minolta which was an excellent way to learn the basics of photography to manually change aperture and shutter speed to compensate for the change in light conditions. Minolta XD-11 is considered by many to be the best manual-focus 35 mm SLR Minolta ever produced. I took black & white photos on my China travel and portraits of old people living in Göteborg. When I was admitted to a one-year basic photography course in Gotland, I added Nikon FM2 and Rolex cameras to my collection. Gotland’s ‘raukar’ (stone columns created by natural erosion) and silky sand beaches became my inspirational subjects to explore in an abstract way. The camera became my paint brush and the film strip my canvas. The school also provided access to a darkroom 24 hours a day which gave me time to learn and develop my darkroom skills. My first street photography shots were taken in Moscow when our photography class visited Russian photographers during a week. The idea of the ‘decisive moment’ had not yet entered my consciousness, but I tried to develop my own interpretation of the scene, inspired by the legendary Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm.
The year after I was admitted to the Photojournalism class at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. Equipped with film cameras Nikon F3 and Leica M3, I discovered a New York City beyond the cliches and that really captivated me. I loved the cultural mix of people, smell and sounds from the streets and I soon started to feel at home in the streets even though some of the places were quite dangerous. The small Leica model allowed me to become more ‘invisible’ and to get closer to difficult situations when I was for example shooting homeless people. Leica’s lenses also offered superior performance at maximum aperture, which made them well suited for natural-light photography. Even though Leica’s mechanical precision and built quality was outstanding, the Nikon F3 gave me more modern features such as automatic exposure control and TTL metering. As a student, I saw advantage in Nikon’s quality lenses at lower costs then the Leica ones. For the same price as one Leica lens, I could get two, if not three, Nikon lenses. This was the 90s, before the digital age kicked in, so I spent huge amounts of money to buy film, film processing (then I didn’t develop myself), and paper enlargement.
This period also offered the opportunity to study the concept of the ‘Decisive Moment’ at ICP classes and workshops. Cartier-Bresson defined it as “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.” Regarded as one of the greatest photographers of his time (1940s – 50s), Henri Cartier-Bresson was a shy Frenchman who elevated “snap shooting” to the level of a refined and disciplined art.
For three intensive years in New York I photographed homeless people and public demonstrations on a variety of human right issues, while also freelancing for local NYC based papers and the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, doing an internship at Magnum Photos, assisting photographers, and attending classes and workshops. The Alternative Museum at Broadway featured two of my images of the homeless people in their Alternative Museum Benefit Portfolio.
My passion for documentary photography resulted in projects such as handicapped children in Gaza, Palestine, and the Bosnian War, including a photo essay on orphans and their daily struggle to go to school despite the war. Before I took off to Croatia to get my press accreditation, I sold my Leica and instead added a couple of more Nikkor lenses in my camera package. Now it was only Nikon equipment I was carrying this time. The image of a mother sitting on a roof with her children shows the horrifying effects the war had on innocent people.
When I started my Faroese Artists project, I chose this time to rent a Hasselblad camera for a couple of months. There’s something simple and elegant about a square image. Compared with a 35mm camera I think the results were stronger as far as concerns portraits. The images of Astrid Andreasen and Edward Fuglø were also shaped by black & white tonality which created a lyric and mystical atmosphere.
Instead of buying an Hasselblad I opted to purchase a Mamiya RZ Pro II a couple of years later. That camera is widely renown for its sharpness and detail capacity and today replaced with the digital version RZ67 Pro IID. I found its large, ideal 6x7cm format film size just perfect for studio and portrait photography. I was shooting Fuji portrait films on the karate portraits which were low in contrast with an emphasis on smooth and accurate skin tones.
Read more about my digital cameras and workflow in my next entry.