Ole Brodersen was a Outstanding Work selection in the 2020 Denis Roussel Award.
Horizontal Displacement – You write, “My work explores the landscape and the natural forces that animate it – makes exposures of the horizon from a boat – “mechanical objectivity” – the process being perceived as unmediated.”
As in the process of creating a physical painting, your photographs in this portfolio feature “gesture” as the subject… where the platform for the mechanical apparatus moves with the rhythm of the subject. This symbiotic relationship of allowing the environment to dictate the making of the image is lovely as an idea and is similar in concept to the portfolios that I feel best represent Denis Roussel’s creative spirit.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
My name is Ole Brodersen, I am a Norwegian photographer based, born and raised on a car free island off the Norwegian southern coast. I am strongly connected to this place, the 12th generation in my family, and the maritime elements here dominate my motifs. My father is a sailmaker, my grandfather was a sailor, I used to row to school, I sailed since the age of six and I have circumnavigated the Atlantic Ocean. My work explores the landscape and the natural forces that animate it.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I got my first camera at the age of 6, but I my interest in photography first turned serious while sailing the Atlantic. I am originally educated as an art director, but I received one year of schooling on analogue photography before I assisted Dag Alveng for a year. He is one of the first conceptual photographers in Norway, and is represented at i.e. MoMa and the Met.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
My old master, obviously, but maybe mostly technically. I think the creative side is more influenced by my surroundings and experience. This area has a very long seafaring history that stretches back for generations. Everyday life here is intricately bound with and supported by the sea. On this threshold, you grow up to be constantly aware of the changes in the air and sea. High tide? Check the moorings. Heavy snowfall? Shovel snow off the boats. I try to capture the feeling of being present in the landscape, by making images that are, to an extent, a direct imprint of the environment in motion.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
I think l’empire des lumières stuck to me pretty early in life. While working on an earlier project, Trespassing, I sometimes came across results that would remind me of these works. I did a lot of work with different weak light sources on the water, that required me to work at late dusk. If I underexposed these, the lights would be visible, the land would almost be pitch black, the sea just glowing while the sky could be pretty well lit.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.
Oh, it is tricky to find a good example here, there are so many. But I guess they are mostly on a very detailed technical level, so bear with me. While working with a rotating panorama camera from a boat, I noticed that some areas in the image were clearly sharper than others. After studying the large prints (170×70) I found out that these sharp areas occurred on wave crests and wave troughs, and the areas in between had motion blur. I had exposed with 1/60 of a second, and I realized that on the crests and troughs the boat is “standing still” long enough for the exposure to be sharp. The way up or down has so much movement that these areas are blurred. I have applied this knowledge to other works.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Denis Roussel Award.
The basic working procedure is to orchestrate a shot in such a way that the unpredictable processes operating in a landscape can be captured. Physical forces active in a given environment are harnessed to produce a dynamic portrait of the landscape. In “Horizontal Displacement” I make exposures of the horizon from a small boat. The camera that is used as a tool to register movement becomes part of the movement it is mapping. Semi fast exposures give us unsharp renderings in heavy sea and more well defined results in calmer weather.
In Horizontal Displacement the camera is put in a partially controlled situation, and waiting to be hit by chance. There is here an echo of the famous legend of J.M.W. Turner tying himself to the mast of a ship in order to experience the storm. The situation here is maybe less dramatic, but the stakes are the same. To make images that are not simply snapshots of the transitory states of a landscape, but transcripts of the experience of being in a place and reacting to everything that surrounds you.
Unlike snapshots, I operate in an expanded temporal register. Through long exposures, multi-exposures, tricolor or rotating panorama shots, I work with intervals of time, which gives space to the forces in the landscape. As well as my participation and influence on the result is reduced. For example, a long exposure, combined with the boat moving heavily (less control) abstracts the image. An expression we usually combine with subjectivity, is created through an objective approach.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding.
Working with film and this “objective approach” of mine obviously increases the excitement regarding the development of the negatives, and seeing the final result. As for the actual recordings, they are quite laborious, especially now that I have taken the step up from 4×5 to 8×10. The whole kit is now around 40kg and a considerable amount of time passes before I can even start studying the ground glass. This does give me more time out in the open, which is always a pleasure. As we say in Norway; There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Well, to some extent, as the equipment has to survive too.
In Horizontal Displacement, photographing at sea, well, I get to spend time at sea. The color part of this series consists of triple exposed images, taken before sunrise, at solar noon and after sunset. Forcing myself to head out into the open sea at these three moments every day, was a very rewarding idea.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
Hmmm. Well, there are some times when it seems I have forgotten all I know, and every negative turns out bad. This can be very frustrating, and often happens if too much time passes between recordings. The same can happen if I change equipment. There is a lot of testing necessary when changes are made, and it can be very time consuming. I don’t have any special techniques to cope with this, but since I do all printing myself in the darkroom, there are many natural pauses from recordings, which gives me the new deal I need to get back on the horse.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
Besides from all the necessary equipment needed to do analogue photography, including a full scale darkroom and a studio for mounting – I can’t say there are many tools I use that other photographers don’t. I have a few apps that can be helpful, including a viewfinder and a calculator for hyperfocal distance. For that I also need a device to measure the distance, which is tricky with lasers in full daylight. I don’t know if you can call a boat a tool, but that is very essential in my work.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I just recently took the step up to 8×10, so I am very focused on that now. There are so many cameras, and formats, and techniques that I would not know where to start. Any analogue process would be interesting, but I am also extremely content with finding something that works for me and sticking with that. As for subject matters, I have not done much portraits, and I might have to do that one day to challenge myself.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
It has always been necessary for me to relate to the natural world growing up here, and with the experiences I have had. After turning my profession towards photography, about 10 years ago, this “forced” relation to nature has turned into a strong interest. Through my quasi-scientific approach I try to show the hidden forces of the landscape by giving up some control of the photographic process. With the use of these methods I get to observe and relate to nature in a new way. For me it has been an eye opener, and somehow it is tricky to undo or unsee this. I can definitely say that work with photography has changed the way I see the world.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
No influence whatsoever. Living on this island, life has been absolutely unchanged. I had no trips or appointments to cancel. Life continued completely normal.
What’s on the horizon?
I have a residency on another island up the coast. I have been joking about how nice it will be to be able to stay on a car free island with 60 inhabitants for many months (‘cause that’s what I do everyday). But well, it is still not casting pearls before swine, because these two islands are very topographically different. Jomfruland is a terminal moraine, and consists of sand and rolling rocks, very different from my rocky home Lyngør. The sea is shallower and will provide me with very different views. This will be my first project with 8×10 and is very exciting.
To leran more about the work of Ole Brodersen please visit his site at Ole Brodersen.