Grant Winner This project was awarded a special cash grant by juror Jim Casper. Each of the five jury members selected one photographer from the Top 50 Emerging Talents to be awarded special distinction with a cash grant.
From Juror Jim Casper:
I was especially taken by the unique method with which anonymous negatives were given new life in the “Estate” project by Andreas Olesen. By juxtaposing old found photos with contemporary (but out-of-focus) landscapes, the photographer has created multiple layers of meaning and interest, and has created thought-provoking new art without compromising the original imagery. The clever manner of showing the past as a positive image, and the present as a negative, also plays with the notion of photography preserving the past and stopping time. The technique of taping film to glass—and then photographing the film, the tape, the glass, and what can be seen through the glass—also plays with the notion of the picture plane itself in a delightfully fresh manner.
—Jim Casper, LensCulture
“Estate” is a series of photographs of negatives.
These negatives were purchased in Denmark, and are almost certainly the negatives of a Danish family sometime around the Second World war. The images seem to mostly be vacation photos with the occasional family photo in a city setting. This is the information we have about them.
These negatives are taped up on a sheet of glass and photographed in northern Italy, at and around the now famous vacation destination, Lake Garda. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the largest lake in Italy for their own vacation, hoping for relaxation and a simple realization of their desires. The tourist infrastructure of the lake is highly developed, yet it can barely hold the amount of people vacationing every year.
By shooting the negatives on slide film (thus making my own positive) and then enlarging this positive in the darkroom, the resulting picture is a negative of real life. Sky becomes dark, shadows become highlights, it is a classic aesthetic. But the negative being held up in the image is also reversed, resulting in a positive image. The present is reversed and in a way nullified, and the past returns to the forefront, becoming the focus.
There is zero digital manipulation of these images, the negatives are photographed on location.
“Estate” means a property one owns or a legal position in English (heirs inherit the estate of a person who has died). In Italian, it means summer.
Andreas Olesen’s inventive yet enigmatic series “Estate” seemed to demand some more explanation and back story from the artist. Assistant editor Alexander Strecker got in touch via email.
What gave you the idea of buying the negatives of an unknown family? Did you ever feel strange about it—something like stealing their identity?
I worked for many years in a family owned photo store (highly recommended for young people interested in photography) and they did a brisk trade in used equipment. Every so often somebody would come in with old negatives and ask if we wanted them. The owner of the store collected glass plate negatives, so I could never get my hands on them first, but I thought they were such beautiful objects.
Skip ahead many years and my lovely fiancé found some old negatives in an antique store in Copenhagen and decided to buy them for me as a birthday present. What a great gift! As soon as I saw them, the gears started turning in my head.
I must admit that I don’t feel strange about using these negatives. Even if they are of a single family, to me they really seem to represent the idea of family (and a time) instead of a specific family.
After this project, do you now feel like the photos are “yours”? What are your thoughts about appropriation, re-creation, inspiration and so on?
I feel like the images I made are mine, but I don’t feel like the negatives are mine. I did not make them, I am simply lucky enough to posses them at this moment. During the time I was making tests and thinking about this project I struggled long and hard with the idea of how to appropriate the negatives in a manner which didn’t feel like they were the main information carrier in my images. I needed to be sure that the concept and execution of the project was strong enough that I could feel justified in using them. The line between appropriation and intellectual laziness is a thin one, and this tension helped me develop the project into something I could be proud of.
Your work is so analog. What do you think about the future of photography? Can one remain an analog photography in today’s world?
In actuality, I am not a purist. I don’t hate digital photography and I can see some of the huge advantages it has. Can anybody imagine a photojournalist using film anymore? Or a photographer for the ad industry? It’s clearly a powerful tool.
Still, I stick to analog. I have over 20 cameras in all types and formats and I consider all of them important tools for what I do. Each project I undertake is visualized with the equipment as an integral part of the final result. This simply wouldn’t be possible for me with digital. The type of picture I make with an autofocus 35mm rangefinder camera is so very different than the type I make with a 4x5 field camera.
What advice would you give to an emerging photographer looking to take the step in their career? What were some pivotal moments for you?
You have to get your work out there (applying for awards is a good way), and you have to take a large amount of rejection. This makes your work stronger. I probably send out 15-25 applications a year for awards, grants and exhibitions. I applied for a LensCulture Award four or five times and was rejected each time. And then, each year when I looked back at the previous year’s entry, I could clearly see why the work was not good enough.
I have learned to look at rejection positively and to be my own hardest critic. Rejection also helps motivate me. This is a lifelong project.
A pivotal step for me happened about 3 years ago. I stopped and looked back at everything I had done up until then, and came to the conclusion that none of it was good enough. I started over from scratch. It was frightening, sad and a bit extreme, but it also proved very freeing. There were projects I had worked on for years—shot thousands of rolls for—and I put them in a binder and moved on. Perhaps one day I will be able to use some of that content, but for now they are just lessons and a substantial physical representation of the learning process. This is what they mean when they say you have to kill your darlings.
The only other advice is to keep a file with your ideas. This is very important for me because my ideas always arrive one at a time. They are good ideas, but they are the kind where you might say, “clever, but so what?” I collect these ideas, and eventually start to see ways to combine them to produce multi-dimensional work. This is perhaps the most important thing, to make multi-layered work that vibrates.
—Andreas Olesen, as told to Alexander Strecker
Exhibition of all 50 LensCulture Emerging Talents: Barcelona, October 13-31
Andreas Olesen’s work, along with photographs from ALL the LensCulture Emerging Talents will be shown in an exhibition at the Galeria Valid Foto in Barcelona. Please join us for theopening party on October 13, 2014—we hope to see you there! See a preview of ALL the winners here in LensCulture.
ALL winners have already been featured at photo festival screenings in Dublin, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Amsterdam so far this year. Next screening in Korea at the Seoul Lunar Photo Fest.