Positions in Nordic Photography II

Positions in Nordic Photography II

Preus museum

Left: Marius Engh, Atlantic wall, 2008
Right: Ingrid Book and Carina Hedén, Highway Constructions, 2007 – 08

February 12, 2009

Positions in Nordic Photography II

Ingrid Book & Carina Hedén
The Places Themselves – Photographic Works 1998–2008

Marius Engh
The Center of the World – New Works

15/2 – 26/4 2009

Susanne Ø. Sæther and Jonas Ekeberg

Preus Museum
Kulturparken Karljohansvern
Kommandørkaptein Klincks vei 7
3183 Horten, Norway


A documentary turn

In the 1980s, documentary photography experienced a crisis. The ideas of what is known as post-structuralism had a particular impact on photographic artists, resulting in a mass exodus from documentary photography, or “real stories”. At the same time as the art photographer’s intense relationship with documentary photography was coming to an end, it was possible to observe a new interest in the genre in visual art. In the course of the 1990s, documentary photography was to take on a new role, as contemporary art turned away from the post-structuralist critique of representation and renewed its preoccupation with historical, social and political issues.

Neither does there appear to have been any critique of representation in the new documentary photography in contemporary art. Instead artists were preoccupied with representation on an entirely different level – as a way of visualising conflicts, historical fragments, overlooked social structures and marginalised groups.

Some of the strongest expressions of this “documentary turn” in contemporary art was featured in the ground-breaking Documenta exhibitions of 1997, 2002 and 2007. With their clear geopolitical and post-colonial emphasis, all three exhibitions illustrated this trend in photography and film/video. But also on a smaller, more local or regional scale, documentary photography has become an important element of the contemporary art vocabulary.

In Nordic contemporary art the artist duo Ingrid Book (b. 1951) & Carina Hedén (b. 1948) are among the most important representatives of this trend. The two draw on a documentary style that balances between a factual, austere expression that evidently seeks to render the medium invisible and one that is more sophisticated and seeks to make the viewer aware of his or her culturally conditioned gaze. Their exhibition at Preus Museum is a thematic juxtaposition of fourteen different photographic series that the two have produced over the past twenty years. The selection revolves around questions concerning place and non-place, political and private space, belonging and cultural identity. The ways the artists approach these questions shows that places represent not just private or geopolitical realities but also artistic and visual constructs. Consequently, the photographic reformulation of a place’s history and identity also constitutes a political act.

Marius Engh (b. 1974) also uses documentary photography in the service of a historical-political project. In the exhibition at Preus Museum Engh shows a number of works that all address themes relating to power, militarism and history. In his documentary portrayals of historic military edifices – in the process of transformation to the condition of ruins – Engh shows us the erosion of power and the stratified nature of history. But first and foremost his works home in on a connection between power and weaponry on the one hand and the individual gaze on the other. The artillerist’s embrasure is an eloquent example of this linkage. To conceal oneself is synonymous with protection. To see the other is synonymous with power.

The two solo exhibitions featuring Ingrid Book & Carina Hedén and Marius Engh make up the second instalment in Preus Museum’s exhibition series “Positions in Nordic Photography”. The first consisted of the exhibitions “Material for a film” and “The Magic Mirror of John Dee and other Photographic Works” profiling the work of Miriam Bäckström and Joachim Koester respectively. Both were shown at Preus Museum in 2007.

Jonas Ekeberg


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