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Magnus Cederlund – “In the end, it is not journalism or activism but an aesthetic enterprise, so the inspiration, not sympathy, is paramount”

KT: How did you get into photography? When/what was your first encounter with photography?

MC: I was living in Stockholm 30 years ago and a friend showed me “Café Lehmitz” by Anders Petersen, and that was it. I just had to begin doing something like that. So I got the equipment and started clicking. Concerts, the street, the subway, parties, travels. It’s really simple, not complicated. I saw something good and wanted to do it, so I started from where I was at.

 

KT: With your photographic approach, you have tried to present people living on the edge ranging from the intimacy of the situations, the confronted gestures and the direct gaze of the persons. What is your intent behind photographing the poverty and hardships of a particular section of the society?

MC: I hear two questions in this one. The range from street photography to domestic scenes – as well as from direct gazes to situations where people are in action, non-conscious of the camera – that varies the sense of subjectivity felt from the book, I guess. It is like this: the private and self-conscious would feel too hard pressed if every photograph in the book was like that; and likewise, we would not like it as much if we always stayed at the distance of the portrait of a mere situation. As in our own lives, by the way, we require the introspection as well as self-forgetting. It needs to be said though, that this has in no way been the intention from the start. No, to begin with, all that mattered was good photos, and in putting them together it was all done through intuitive taste. But now this is my interpretation.

Then the second part of the question: why this section of society? Well, I photograph all kinds of people, whenever someone’s looks trigger curiosity I approach it as a photographer. I can’t help it. My children, friends, rock musicians on the scene, backstage, whatever. And it just so happens that people on the edge fit my taste so very much. One side of it is that the now which we all bring with us tends to suggest more of a story than the case is with most people. Another side to it is the fact that it can be said to be the shadow of society, yet they aren’t paid much attention to – maybe they receive mentioning, sure, in the news and everywhere… But personal, authentic attention is more or less absent, and I think that is the reason I am drawn to the rawness of this “section of the society”. Of course there is sympathy in it too, but in the end, it is not journalism or activism but an aesthetic enterprise, so the inspiration, not sympathy, is paramount. I am just glad that my taste thus also seems to take into concern social issues.

 

KT: In your photobooK ‘SKIN CLOSE’, the portraits in the book have been photographed over a span of 20 years, taken in Copenhagen between 1996 and 2016. What made you convert your long-term photography project into a photo book? What do you like about photography in a book format?

MC: The idea has always been to make a photo book. It could have been a book 10 years ago. Maybe even earlier. Only, the quality would have been of much less value; there weren’t enough good pictures back then. But I always aimed for that, trying from time to time to see my body of photographies condensed in a book, imagining and experimenting with what that would be like. Then what is great about this format? Good question. A book is usually not open… Most of the time you don’t even see the cover but just the back standing in a shelf… In contrast to prints on the wall for instance. Which, of course, I love too. But once you grab that book it enables you to spend more time with the artist. And it is something you can show someone in a much better way. It’s strange, but how to look at one picture hanging on a wall? In someone else’s home or in a museum. It’s an odd situation, cause maybe you really like it, but where should your attention go? You start to analyse maybe… That is not the best thing to do. But a book offers you to turn that page and get more from the same source. That is a great thing. So you are offered a way to engage, in a way, and instead of analysing, taking the pictures apart so to speak, you are offered different parts in another way, each being something unto itself. And you can’t help forming into an impression of some world or world view (if it’s good). You get closer to the artist.

 

KT: The portraits taken in your book ‘SKIN CLOSE have a special focus on the homeless people and drug addicts. Why did you decide to name your book project as ‘SKIN CLOSE’? What were the difficulties you faced during this project?

MC: Ha! My favourite and most hated topic for many years now have been the title! What should I call my book? Holy mother! There’s been so much back and forth. But in the end, my publisher, Gösta, came up with the title a week before it went into the press. And it just felt right! And to be honest, it had felt pretty good with many of the previous ideas… But especially with something like this, a publisher is someone you want to trust. And I haven’t regretted the title in the least, I think it is perfect. Seems optimal for photography in general, not least my book being somewhat naked, and google tells me it hasn’t been done in this realm. That’s perfect! … So yes, getting the title right was a difficulty. Another one was arranging the pictures – more so than choosing the right ones, I think. I have experience in photography, not in making books. So that part was the harder one. Finding out how to divide it into sections without making it seem too abrupt, was the key here; and once again I really relied on my publisher (as well as a good friend of mine who help me put together the dummy versions that came before the final).

 

KT: “People with addiction feel stuck and unable to do anything to help themselves. Therefore, photo-shaming or guilt-tripping them aren’t recommended by experts as good routes toward recovery.” This was the conclusion of one of the studies focussing on homeless and drug addicts, released in 2017. What are your views on it?

MC: I really don’t know much about those studies. But shaming or guilt-tripping has nothing to do with my photographs, I can say that much. I think all people want to look good on a picture, and that is all I’m ever trying to do when shooting someone, in one way or another.

 

KT: With your hard-hitting photos, what do you wish to achieve with your photography in the end?

MC: As I mentioned, my aim is not social but aesthetic. But if it helps people connect to a shadow side of society, I will be very pleased. If the book has something to say except for portraying the individual lives in it, I will be very proud if it shows that we are all not that different. Maybe we are all alike in that we suffer, sure there’s that, and it is more in your face in these kinds of photos than in average Copenhagen life. But we can share something at least as much through friendship, love, humour and a certain toughness, for example. That is what I hope to have portrayed. The ethos. And people can relate to that, I think. It is there in the shadow as well: It is in the raw as well as in the polished, and most of all I want these aspects not to stand overly separated but more integrated with one another. We belong together… But really, I hope my photography will be enjoyed, just at a simple level. And if that can help bridge some of these things I am talking about, then that is just wonderful.

 

Photos© Magnus Cederlund

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