This post is a dialogue with Andreas Olesen, a talented photographer who has an upcoming show at Den Frie Contemporary Art Center in Copenhagen, next Friday (4/2/2010). Born and raised in California, and currently living in Copenhagen, Andreas uses a variety of camera formats and types, exclusively on film. What follows is a dialogue with him about photography, inspiration, and upcoming projects. All the photos are by Andreas Olesen.
When did your interest in photography start? Can you list some of your main sources of inspiration?
I’m not sure when exactly I became interested in photography, but it was probably around when I was 14 or 15. When I was about 15 I got a hold of a point and shoot camera, and I used it a ton, mostly taking pictures of skateboarding, snowboarding, friends and the like. This was before digital point and shoot cameras, and even before disposable cameras became popular. I remember agonizing about the cost of film and development. At the same time I started hearing about the photo program at my high school. There was a new teacher who had started, and he began to show the work that the students were making around the school, which got me even more interested. I was 16 years old, and I took photo every semester after that. I started leaving other classes early in order to go and work in the darkroom.
Aonia / Terrae series
As for inspiration, I suppose the first person I must list would be my first photo teacher himself, Jeff Martz. He still teaches at my old high school, and I must say he is an excellent teacher. I am and was very lucky. He gave us a solid and fast technical base, and then spent most of the rest of the time trying to develop our photography as art.
Every week there was a ‘photographer of the week’, with a slide show and everything, and we had to write about the work we saw, and what we thought about it. I basically saw all the classics of 19th century, starting with Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, etc. We then quickly moved into more modern work like Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, William Eggleston, Jeff Wall, John Pfahl, and so on. I realized much later, when I was in art school, that many people had never had the opportunities to learn about photography as art until they came to university!
Untitled / COP15 series
All your photographic work is on film. What is it that you like about film, and why haven’t you switched to digital?
This is a tough question to answer, and also funny, because it really polarizes people. A lot of film photographers will explain to you endlessly that digital “just doesn’t look quite right”. A lot of digital photographers will explain to you that film is completely moot. I heard a local Canon representative tell customers at a photo store that film is only for nerds now!
I find that both types are right, film and digital are powerful tools for making images, they just function very differently. Modern high-end digital SLR’s make jaw dropping images. If you are an average photographer who makes his/her living from photography, digital is the only choice for 99 out 100 of them. It simply doesn’t make sense to work otherwise nowadays. Now, if you are a photographer who makes art, then you can have whatever non-sensible business choice your little heart can dream of.
Untitled / Counterfeit Placebo series
I, maybe unfortunately, fall into the latter category. I don’t survive (yet!) off my photography, so I have the freedom to work however I like. And I like film. I would rather work in darkroom instead of in front of a computer, because I like to make things with my hands.
I would also prefer to make my color images in a darkroom, but that is unfortunately becoming harder and harder to do. I also like to make my own frames. It all fits into the personal pleasure of making things. I do, in reality, also work digitally. I have to scan my negatives and prepare them for my website. All applications to shows, for grants, etc, are digital. To edit a series I scan it all in and then make small prints to check. I’m also making a poster right now. That has to be done digitally. So it’s really only in the image making that you work in film these days anyways.
Untitled / Counterfeit Placebo series
I love cameras, and I love to use different cameras (and film formats) to achieve different images. I like to make cameras, to buy old equipment, to mess around with the materials. For example, there has been a increased interest in the tilt/shift effect in photography, now that it is a simple thing to do in photoshop to any image. However, I shot the entire series Terrae with a large format camera, and did all the focus effects on the spot!
A digital photographer has to buy a new camera every 3-5 years in order to stay abreast of modern image quality. I can buy a 60 year old camera which takes phenomenal images, and will probably function for the next 60 years. This is all part of the enjoyment of photography for me, and I can’t foresee me working differently any time soon.
Have you seen an evolution in your style?
I have recently, in the last 3 years or so, seen a big evolution in my style. I really floundered for a while, not really sure about where I wanted to go, or even what I wanted to photograph. I spend many years simply taking pictures, without an idea about bodies of work or focused work periods. My first solo exhibit showed both black & white and color photography in several different formats. I think it was a little messy. After I moved to Denmark (almost 5 years ago) I really started to think about how I wanted to present myself, and how I wanted to make work. It was a sink or swim moment. And I think that now it’s really starting to finally come together. I have recently finished my new website, and am energized to show both what I have done, and what I’m doing now. In a way, after almost 15 years of making photographs, I’m just getting started.
Untitled / Welcome to Wonderful series
Andreas’ upcoming group show is Generous Gesture, an exhibition on art and interculturalism in Denmark. Click here for more details.
His next project is The Bigger Picture.