Interview #82: Ole Erik Løvold
CUS: How did you get into photography?
OEL: I started out when I was 15 and got my first camera, as a way to get out of the house instead of spending all my time on the computer. I grew up on a small island in north-west Norway, which although picturesque in its ruggedness, isn’t the most exciting place to grow up. I used to draw a lot in school and had a thing for pictures, so photography felt like a natural fit. I was motivated by two aspects - the picture-making part in itself, but also documenting my own life, saving memories. I photographed my friends and family a lot.
CUS: Did you study (or are you currently studying) photography? If not, how did you learn?
OEL: Yes, I moved to London and did a BA in photography between 2011-2014. I was introduced to the idea of photography as art, critical writing, and started engaging with things in a new way. It was a real eye-opener for me.
CUS: Tell us about where you live. How does your city/country/location have an effect on your photography?
OEL: I live in Oslo, Norway. The light varies tremendously with the seasons, which obviously affects the pictures. In January when it’s minus 20 and everything’s covered in snow and ice and the sun is shining from a low angle, things take on a different magic than in July on a summer night when it never really gets dark. The same street looks completely different. That definitely has an affect on my photography in that things are constantly changing and make things more exciting.
CUS: What is your photographic process?
OEL: I go for walks with my camera regularly and also have a compact on me at all times. Whenever I see something that interests me I take a picture. It’s really uncomplicated and enjoyable in the beginning. Then comes the slightly less enjoyable but necessary work of editing and putting pictures together into something coherent.
CUS: Where do you draw inspiration from? What is the motivation behind your image-making?
OEL: I get the most inspiration out of literature, which charge my reality with new meaning. The two writers who have influenced me most is Rebecca Solnit and Karl Ove Knausgård, although recently I’m totally into anything that has to do with the sea, much obliged to Morten Strøksnes fantastic book Shark Drunk. Highly recommended. The motivation behind my image-making is the same as any other artist, I suppose. Just an instinctive desire, or necessity, deeply embedded in me.
CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
OEL: Toast with cream cheese, cloudberry jam and walnuts on top. And regular black coffee.
CUS: Who are the individuals in your photographs?
OEL: People rarely take the center stage in my pictures, and if they do, they’re either small figures or turned away from the camera. I like pictures where the figures are interacting with the landscape in some way, gazing out over it, like in Caspar David Friedrichs Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, except maybe I’m not so interested in the sublime. When people are turned away from the camera the viewer places themselves in the picture. There’s also the practical aspect, I feel awful taking pictures of strangers.
CUS: What makes a good image?
OEL: If I only knew… Harmony in form and colour is a good start, but really good images feel like something you’ve never seen before. They have a distinct vibration, like Awoiska van der Molen’s dark landscapes.
CUS: What are your thoughts on digital vs. film photography; photography & its current relationship with the Internet?
OEL: I have used both digital and film extensively and I think for some pictures, film is be better, and for other pictures digital is better. It depends on the situation and what you’re trying to achieve with the picture. I like digital in low light and for details, I like film for its colours and for wider shots. For really big prints, large format film is unbeatable. The process of shooting film is also enjoyable, but the costs are prohibitive, especially for larger formats and especially here in Norway. I like the freedom of digital to take lots of crap pictures and being able to experiment because it doesn’t cost you anything. I recently became a student again and I can’t afford the £200 a month on film and developing, so now I’m just using digital. I feel like the fetishisation of analog can be a bit too much sometimes. I see this in electronic music with DJs too, if you’re not playing vinyl you’re not doing it properly. The same in photography: if you’re not shooting film, you’re not doing it properly. This was the case at my university, where if you didn’t use at least medium format film they’d give you shit. But if the picture is boring, or your mixing skills are awful, the medium isn’t going to magically make up for that. The idea is much more important.
The internet is obviously great in many ways and shitty in many others. The laptop/phone screen is a pretty limited canvas on which to display pictures, and throws all work, no matter it’s original intention, into the same format. Then there’s the heart and the like on social media, which can throw even the most assured artist out of balance. At least for me and my simple brain, if some picture I put up doesn’t get any likes, I’m led to believe it sucks. I know that it’s not necessarily so, but like everyone else, I’m a sucker for the dopamine. But then I remember social media is the world of the conventional and the catchy, of the simple, single image. It doesn’t allow for challenging complexity. It is seen, scrolled past, and forgotten immediately. Like a goldfish, moving mindlessly on to the next thing. Of course the way social media has infiltrated every part of our lives in such a short amount of time is staggering, scary and with unimaginable consequences, which have already begun to manifest itself in horrible ways (I’m looking at you, Trump). But for photography and for art, it’s more like a supplement than a replacement. The experience of going to the gallery or reading the book still matters, because the physical experience of something inevitably has a bigger impact on us. Physicality, the event, sharing the experience with others, these are important things.
CUS: Your favourite photographer?
OEL: Stephen Shore and William Eggleston have a special place in my heart because their work became the gateway to photography as art for me. Jem Southam’s landscapes were a big influence. I mentioned Awoiska van der Molen already, Paul Graham, Jason Fulford, my old tutors Eva Vermandel and Richard Billingham, my friends Erik Mowinckel and Robin Lambert.
CUS: If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
OEL: I genuinely have no idea… I like photography because it’s such a solitary activity, but it would be interesting to work with a writer/poet, and make something which combined image and text.
CUS: Your dream equipment? Your dream location to shoot?
Maybe that Fuji medium format digital? I could only afford that in my dreams. I also dream of going to Japan.
CUS: What is the biggest challenge you face with your work?
OEL: Editing, contextualising and presenting it in the best way. I also often get into thinking my work is too derivative and conventional and I try to make it fresh, and although this is often just a result of poor self confidence, it’s good to challenge oneself, experimenting and failing miserably, that’s part of the work too.
CUS: Describe your most recent dream.
OEL: Last night I dreamt about breaking the legs of a guy I disliked in school. That’s what you get when you watch The Handmaid’s Tale before going to bed.
CUS: What are some of your favorite books and films?
OEL: The first two books of Karl Ove Knausgårds My Struggle, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun, The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, Ways of Seeing by John Berger. Films off the top of my head: Akira, Wild Strawberries, Manchester by the Sea, Into Eternity.
CUS: What are your plans for the remainder of 2017?
OEL: After a really hectic end of summer, right now I’m planning on just focusing on my studies as well as a new, more experimental body of work.
CUS: Can you tell us about any upcoming exhibitions, publications, or projects?
OEL: Just recently I launched my new book Move Gently, published by Tide Press, which has been one year in the making. I also hosted a two week artist residency right near where I grew up at the end of August/beginning of September. During this residency I also had the opportunity to focus on new work. I raided my deceased grandfathers old boathouse for fishing paraphernalia which I brought back with me to Oslo, and I also did some videos of the sea. Right now I’m fascinated by the sea and water and the mythology surrounding it, and I want to do some work about that, and not just photography, but also sculpture/objects and video, and in the context of the gallery.
CUS: Our last interviewee, Levi Wedel, asks: Name or describe a photo you wish you had taken & why?
OEL: There have been a number of times when I’ve walked across something incredible and not had a camera on me, I know that for a fact, but I can’t remember anything specific… I’d like to think the photos I wish I had taken are still out there somewhere, waiting.
CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?
OEL: Describe your favourite hamburger?