NOTES FROM A CONVERSATION

When I sat down with Bjørn in Oslo to talk about his new work, it seemed initially as if he was making a radical departure. He talked about the parameters that were set for the TF21 project. Bjørn doesn’t like parameters. We talked about the concept for the work. Bjørn doesn’t like ‘concepts’ – except when they are realised organically over a period of time, and after the intuitive process of photographing.

What was fascinating for me in the course of our conversation, was the creative process that he engaged with throughout the progression of the work, all of which was recorded visually using Polaroid and through extensive notes. Initially he thought about ‘the brief’ and about the issues surrounding Tenerife and he began to think about the several rocks just off-shore and how they must look from a distance, out to sea, like Tenerife itself: a large mass of volcanic rock rising incongruously, like a mirage, out of the ocean. This was the first of several Revelations. He plotted their positions around the coastline on the map and began laboriously to photograph them with a very large 10×8 inch camera, and also on Polaroid. He began slowly to realise that, besides being logistically difficult on the large camera, the Polaroid images seemed to express more about how he felt – there was apparently a conflict here, between Reality and Fantasy; the imperfections and softness of the Polaroid seemed closer to expressing what he felt. And for Bjørn, it also represented a tension between the Conceptual and the Emotional…

Nevertheless, he continued to photograph the six lumps of rock on his list. On his second last day, with the sun low in the sky and as he was photographing the rock out to sea on his cumbersome camera, he glanced to his left and saw his shadow moulded like a shroud to an outcrop on the coastline. It was his last exposure and it rained for the rest of the trip.

That one photograph was everything… an epiphany. Made quickly and intuitively, on contemplation it seemed to Bjørn to gather meanings. The work became as much about the process as it was about the final image – a creative journey through a series of quiet revelations. It began as a meditation on Tenerife itself, and gradually metamorphosed into something personal and autobiographical. The solitary image served as a distillation of the many pictures he made on that trip. It came to be about the artist himself, as well as his growing relationship with Tenerife forged by his beloved Tenerifan wife, Alejandra. The natural vignetting of the lens suggested the restricted view through the porthole of a ship or perhaps a telescope, and the outcrop seemed to echo the shape of Tenerife itself. The photograph of the shadow – the trace of himself – seemed a proof of his mortality, and his existence in that place, like a preserved footprint.

Bjørn has always been conscious of his own mortality and is keenly aware of the importance of photography as evidence of existence long after death. Photographers in the nineteenth century were keenly aware of the significance of the relatively new medium as ‘memento mori’. Indeed recently deceased children and adults were often photographed as if they were still alive. This photographic act of commemoration also has the function of immortalising its subject; of saving it from oblivion.

Bjørn has constantly – almost obsessively – made self-portraits, not only as a process of self-examination, but also as a means of leaving something of him behind after his death; as a means of achieving immortality. The display cabinet then, provides us with evidence of his creative process, but significantly it is also a museum cabinet. We look down on the artefacts in the cabinet – the handwritten notebooks, the photographs, the lock of his hair – as if we are studying the collected objects of someone long gone. As a Remembrance.

“Forget Me Not”

Robin Gillanders, July 2008