Interview: Andreas Olesen

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Andreas Olesen is interviewed by Billie Jenkins All images reproduced with great thanks to Andreas

Estate, the project by Andreas Olesen which has just been shortlisted for LensCulture’s Emerging Talent 2014, is a subtle yet wonderful thing. Taking the found negatives of a Danish family on their holidays, and recapturing their subjects in the context of modern tourist destination Lake Garda, the black and white results capture ideas of time, change and the strange preservation of past moments photography offers.

Founder and Director of LensCulture, Jim Casper, said when confronted with Olesen’s project he was ’especially taken by the unique method with which anonymous negatives were given new life’. Our interview with the eye behind the project is refreshingly open, including his confrontation of the persistence and thick skin needed to pursue success and exposure in the industry. At one moment he identifies the method of simply holding a found image up to the camera as a ’worn out type of visual language’, and it is this resistance to such staples of recycled imagery which led us to fall in love with Olesen’s project. It’s undeniably simple, but the significance of each aspect betrays this simplicity, rather rich images with depth and an expression of cultural change are achieved.

More of Olesen’s work can be found here.

Your Estate project was created around some antique negatives bought in Denmark, when you found them did they strike you then as something you would like to work with, or did that come later?

I’ve always been fascinated and interested in old negatives and glass plates, but I never bought any because I’m not really a collector by nature. I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase any without knowing what I would do with them. But the negatives for Estate came to me as a present from my lovely fiancé, who claims that when she saw them she knew that they were something I needed. She was right. As soon as I started to look at them, the cogs started turning, and I knew that I wanted to make a project with them. It then took a couple of months of thinking and making tests in order to start the project.

There’s something quite powerful about intimate images of people we can never know, in your artists statement about Estate you state ’This is the information we have about them’, how did this feed into the ideas behind the project?

Thats a good question. I always try to be as direct and clear as possible in my artist statements in order to let my images tell the story. Since I don’t know anything about this family aside from conjecture, it allows me ample space to use them as symbols for family. It’s that strange contrast, they are obviously a specific family, but the lack of information makes them any family. I think the ambiguity around the specifics of these images help to focus the project on the larger ideas behind it while still putting the negatives in center stage. Perhaps some of the fascination and power of these images is their very anonymity.

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Estate has a very striking aesthetic, what led you to this?

I was looking to photograph the negatives in a current time and place without overshadowing their own beauty. I had made a whole series of test images in which I or somebody else simply held the negatives up in the frame while I took the picture. They looked great, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that images have been held up inside of other images for a long time and, I hesitate to say, might just be a worn out type of visual language. I wanted to simplify the juxtaposition, and this led me to buy a sheet of plexiglas and to tape the negatives up on that instead. I didn’t want to hide my role in image, so I left the tape clear and visible. As for the reversal of the positive and the negative, it was a technique I had seen a long time ago in National Geographic, and I realized it was the perfect way to switch the focus of the viewer from present to past and to further obfuscate any sense of what was a priority of focus in the images.

Unlike many photographers who document the world, you submit your images to a specific process, how does this process begin for you with each new project?

I wrote earlier that I’m not a collector by nature, but this is in fact not completely accurate. I do have a large collection of cameras, although I don’t keep any that I couldn’t imagine using one day. I love these machines and a long time ago I realized that the specific type of camera you use in a large part dictates what kind of picture you take. It goes beyond format and film straight into the actual design and use of a camera. So in that way the different machines allow me to take entirely different pictures. The pre-visualization of the aesthetic has everything to do with the camera I reach for. In fact, this project started out with a Rollei Twin Lens Reflex camera, but since there are issues with framing close focus images with that camera, I ended up having to buy a Hasselblad in order to make this series.

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How does it feel to have been cited in LensCulture’s shortlist of 2014’s Emerging Talent?

It very satisfying and a little overwhelming. I have applied for the award at least 4 or 5 times in the past, so it’s really nice to finally connect. But it’s a fleeting victory, because you immediately start wondering how to use the exposure as a launchpad. You find yourself asking, “what’s next?”, not long after the announcement.

Do you have any advice for young photographers who don’t know how to get their projects out there?

I’m still in the process of figuring this out, but I think perhaps the most important thing is to constantly ask yourself, “how can I make this better”? Most of my projects come from a single good idea which is one dimensional. But one dimensional work is rarely enough. The goal is to make work which vibrates. So I keep a file of ideas and after I think more and more about what it is I want to do, then I start to incorporate other ideas in order to make multi-dimensional work. There are a bunch of other small things which work for me, such as being sure to see lots of art, writing down your ideas (and revisiting them later) and finding people to talk to about your work and art in general. The more you surround yourself with art, the better you’ll be able to see your own work in that context. Finally, be sure to solicit criticism, it’s an important part of growth, just like rejection is. I apply for 10-15 shows, awards and grants each year, and I usually don’t get anything. But trying to understand why your work isn’t good enough is a really important tool for making it better.

And finally, are you currently working on anything, or have any new projects in the pipeline?

I always have 2 to 3 projects in the pipeline in varying states of completion. Sometimes I really need to put something aside for a while in order to figure out how to make it vibrate. It’s good to have something else to work on in the interim. I don’t seem to have a problem with developing ideas for work, so the bigger challenge is finding the time to make it. I also really struggle with sticking with a project to the bitter end. I’m in the process of printing Estate for the LenCulture exhibition in Barcelona and for a boxed edition of images from the series, but my heart really just wants to jump over to the project I’m nearly finished with, We Know Each Other. It’s a series of portraits and landscapes represented through the screens of our computers, tablets and phones. I’m so close to being done, and I can’t wait to show that one to the world.

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