There is a screenshot on my desktop from the movie Badlands by Terrence Mallick. It’s not made to be a still image but something I half-consciously turned into one. The video technology is based on the continuation of 24 images per second, so there isn’t much difference anyway. The image shows a few vegetables and fruits lying on the floor in the darkness, while they are on fire. I have no remembrance of watching this scene in the movie. The only reminder is the timeline at the bottom of the screen, 29:24. It has become an independent image and has separated itself from the rest of the film and narrative. I only see the elements that are in it and I eat and interpret what I have in front of me. The pomegranate, the mango, the floor, the flames.
To replace elements in and out of their context is a familiar part of my photographic process. I find it fascinating when I´m liberated to play with the context, juxtaposition, and narrative of the image. Scissor and glue with the codes, expectations, and references they contain. Playing with both the viewer and my own expectations of what a photograph can be. Isn’t that the purpose of creating something? Take the element from anywhere and place it somewhere else. To encounter something you have encountered endless times but in a new way, in a different place, and in a different context. There is a need or rather desire from many people to draw two lines under the answer after the encounter with the artwork. Why not let us wonder or let it hang loose for a bit? I don´t want to finish it, I want to take it on, and bring in my own experiences and memories.
The photographer Torbjørn Rødland stated he is drawn to juxtapositions in images that make sense on a deeper level. They ask you to keep looking because you sense they could be meaningful. I recognize the hunger to search for images that show the unexpected but also the unexpected in the expected. Especially with a medium such as photography which is contradicting in its nature. On one side it’s a distant, simplifying, and unreachable two-dimensional surface that hangs on the wall. Simultaneously I experience this simplifying of the world as emotional, sensitive, and affective. We get drawn to it all the time and everywhere. You don’t have to look further than photographic genres such as family albums, pornography, social media, or video games to understand that.
A central part of my and possibly all creative processes are fumbling. … these are situated someplace in particular, not everywhere or nowhere in killing abstraction., wrote the American author Ursula Le Guin poetically about stories. I experience she is trying to set word to this way of unconscious searching, the creative process is in my opinion. The fumbling is not necessarily in total darkness but the sun tends to have set on the sky while you look for this someplace. These images tend to be thinking, to contain more than the surface reveals, not illustrate an idea or prove a point. If the images end up answering their own questions, they are likely to be uninteresting.
The image is pointing to something. This something that in photography seems so realistic to humans. Pointing is something distinctively human that we do all the time. Look at this, look at that. Be quiet. Raise your hand, or rather your finger if you agree. I dare to say images certainly point as well. All these hints and unstated threads images contain.
Orange peel, reminding you of the way your grandfather diligently used to peel it. The five eggshells lay on a counter in an intimate formation, making you think of your endless attempts to not get any bits of shell into your omelet. Sometimes, or rather quite often I don’t know what the image is pointing to. I only get the sense it’s pointing to something. It confuses me with the familiar yet strange elements it contains. Or maybe in a combination or compound of images. I want to look deeper and I simply can’t let it go.
But it doesn’t only point, it holds onto something. There is something beyond what the photo references. Does it function as a carrier of meaning? At least it holds onto an illusion of meaning. In comparison, a book holds words, and words tend to hold things. They bear meanings. As Le Guin writes further; A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us. I would say the same about certain photographs. The pixels, the grain, work as some carrier for something more, something potentially bigger. Can I ever reach there?
Elements in certain images take me by surprise, just as the words in certain texts, titles, and lines do. I read from the notes on my iPhone; The Bell Curve, Habitable life, The We The You The I, Caressing, I Might Be Wrong. All words or expressions are heard countless times but not in the context of the reflective space that art is. Their meanings change as the recognizable elements in the images do when they come to view. Playing with already existing elements is enough for me. They give me some pegs entering the work to hang my references, memories, and experiences up to dry. Maybe that’s why I don’t need 3D scans, sculptures, and installations of the image to make them interesting. I want a renewed view of something familiar, preferably something I have seen a million times.
Later my professor asked me where and when I found a specific line or a title but I´d already forgotten. They are part of an extended sphere where I fit what I want. For me it seems irrelevant, it’s the words and their connotation I scout for. Just like in images. The questions where, when, what, and why seem redundant. It’s just what’s in them that makes me want to taste them. The other questions are some covered-up missions to domesticate or tame them. To simplify that one area that isn’t simple, seems so repulsive and counterintuitive.
I’m reading the words aisle on the screen above me. Aisle, isle. These ideas you have, carrying around. Kneading and wrestling, to get it together to this abstract something. Different ideas and threads would probably look like a group of islands from above. They have intuitively nothing to do with each other but form an archipelago together. With invisible bridges holding them together at the water’s edge. My undertaking seems to be to color these bridges. Like children color animals, princesses, and superheroes in their drawing books. Not necessarily make the bridges or stones in between the islands but at least find them and draw them on the folded-up map.
The lines are so vague and weak, I can barely see them myself. Even though I was the one creating them. I hope they can come together. They will come together. Somehow. Like a miracle, every time a plane, which I’m on the way to board as I write, takes off and disappears into the sky. You can explain to me as often as you want how the pressure on the wings lifts the aircraft, but I will never truly understand it. I can look at the images as many times as I want but I won’t be able to explain what they are and what they think. Or even how they came to a place in this world.
…the sign is ambiguous: it remains on the surface… it presents itself at once as intentional and irrepressible, artificial and natural, manufactured and discovered., writes the French critic Roland Barthes. They give me something but not everything, that is what I want. All these opposite poles working against each other but still the miracle that it is working out. Like the burning vegetables lying on the floor, it feels like a religious sacrifice. Isn’t it a saying that you can trace all stories back to the Bible?
The fruit is already rotting when it lies in a bowl in the kitchen. Is there too much difference from letting it burn? The tensity of the flames while you are unable to rescue or remove them. At the same time, there is a desire in me to see it burn, to let it burn. I feel ambiguous if the situation is satisfying or uncomfortable, it leaves me somewhere between. Somewhere (un)wanted. Somewhere I normally can’t go but an artwork will. Or it won’t. The fruit will stay in the flames, and I have to complete it inside me. The timeline at the bottom of the screen is like a whisper from the last row, a reminder of it being a picture, dragged from its original context or continuation of images rather. New you, new me. Someone starts talking in the cinema hall. There is a naive thought in my head that an image is going to reveal something if you look at it long or closely enough. That total knowledge will be discovered all at once, like a lock which suddenly opens after a thousand unsuccessful attempts. Just this one glance up at the image, then I’ll be there.
Barthes, R: Mythologies, Vintage, 1957.
Le Guin, U, K: The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Ignota, 1986.
Shields, D: Reality Hunger, Penguin Books, 2011.
Sontag, S: Against Interpretation, Penguin Books, 1961.
Grunnenberg, R: Torbjørn Rødland Turns The Inside Out, Ssense, 2022. https://www.ssense.com/en-us/editorial/culture/torbjorn-rodland-turns-the-inside-out