My interest in photography started when I was fourteen years old. My brother had learned to print pictures at school, and we both tried to make it work at home in our garage. The pictures were grey and blurred, but nevertheless, I felt it was exceptional, and from that day on, I knew that I wanted to be a photographer.
I grew up in the countryside, and nature has always been my great interest. My grandmother lived in a two hundred year old house. She used to tell me stories about her childhood in Sweden. Her garden was an adventure in itself, there was always plenty to do; chopping wood, digging up potatoes, cutting trees, painting the house, picking apples, flowers and strawberries. She got water from a well, and a telephone very late. At her house, everything was understandable. The fire gave warmth, the house gave shelter, and the sky gave sun and rain.
Since I started photographing, certain themes have recurred in my work. One of them is human existence in relation to nature. Before I started photographing, I used to collect all sorts of things: coins, labels, cow horns. I realized that the obsession with photography is closely related to the collector’s mind. From the very beginning, I worked in series such as backyards, trees, ice, or pictures taken at night.
At the age of fifteen, I became an apprentice at the Royal Court’s photographer Rigmor Mydtskov in Copenhagen. At her Østerbro studio, we made portraits of notable persons in Denmark, and I learned that photography consists of a lot of different handcrafts. I continued making my own pictures, and started travelling in Northern Europe whenever I could. When I had finished my education after four and a half years, I did not know anything else than that I had to continue working with my own photography.
Exhibition catalogue 2015 at the Black Diamond, Copenhagen
A turning point was Ritva Kovalainen’s workshop in Copenhagen, in 1993. Here, for the first time, I got to see Finnish photographic books. Apart from Ritva’s, there were books and portfolios by Jyrki Parantainen, Jorma Puranen, Ismo Hölttö, Pentti Sammallahti, and Kristoffer Albrecht. I immediately realized that the book was the ideal form for photographs. All this Finnish photography was overwhelming to me. In Denmark, I only knew a few photographers I could relate to, but around the school in Helsinki, there was a whole crowd of photographers I felt connected to.
I was immediately convinced that I had to move to Finland. A few weeks later, I travelled to Helsinki, went to see Ritva Kovalainen, and applied to the University of Art and Design (UIAH) to make the book Nordic Signs. In 1994, I moved to Helsinki to study at the UIAH, now called Aalto University, and stayed in Finland until 2007. Nordic Signs was published in 1995. Three years later, I graduated with my final work, the book Bluetide.
Photographing to me is first of all a very personal matter. Usually, I am interested in a specific theme; if I do not have that, I do not know what to photograph. The people I photograph are usually persons whom I admire, or who I for some reason have an interest in. Whenever I can, I try to live with the people for longer periods of time in order to get a better understanding of everything, and to be able to photograph more peacefully.
The socially critical aspect only comes in later, but it does become increasingly interesting along the way, and so it influences the process of photographing. First of all though, I want to see the people and landscapes freed of any agenda, and adjectives such as “rich” or “poor” are of little significance. I do not portray people in poor areas differently than I would portray people in wealthier ones; it is rather a way of looking at the world.
To me, it is essential to believe in a better world, in mankind, and in there being a sense to it all. There are so many problems in the world nowadays – wars, disease, poverty, ecologically disastrous conditions and developments – that it requires discipline to stay optimistic. I try to collect photographs of a world that I can believe in, that gives me hope and moments of magic.
Sence 2005, I have been working on Home Works, a project on my immediate surroundings, which is still in process. The Cuban Studies book is ready for print, and "Nothing Speicial" is still in its initial stage.