Ragnar Axelsson

Susan Sontag is wrong

Interview mit dem isländischen Fotografen Ragnar Axelsson (RAX)

Es ist nicht so, dass er das Leben in der Arktis beschönigen würde. Er zeigt die zerfurchten Gesichter, die harten Lebensbedingungen in der Kälte, die schlichten Behausungen. Trotzdem wohnt den Fotografien des kalten Nordens von Ragnar Axelsson eine verzauberte, biblische Schönheit inne, die wie ein Feuer in der Nacht Wärme und Licht spendet. Die Hirten ziehen mit ihren Herden über karge Hügel, lethargische Gesichter schauen demütig hinaus in die Unwirtlichkeit und menschliche Behausungen wirken hinfällig und zerbrechlich. Wie klein und tapfer ist der Mensch angesichts dieser Lebensbedingungen, wie groß!

Und mit den klassischen Mitteln einer konzentrierten Schwarz-Weiß-Fotografie kann alles gesagt werden. Hell und dunkel: Die zusammengekniffenen Augen beim blendenden Weiß, die flackernden Nordlichter auf einem Himmelszelt von unendlicher Weite. Nah und Fern: Das Leuchten in den Augen, die Runzeln, Falten, Zahnlücken, aber auch die Winterpanoramen vor den dramatischen Kulissen der Eisberge. An den nebligen Tagen werden die Oberflächen grobkörnig und undurchdringlich, schemenhaft zeichnen sich Hunde und zäh gewordene Menschen ab – die beiden häufigsten Objekte von Axelssons Neugier. Er reduziert seine Aussage zum Teil auf eine Linie in der Landschaft und das Hinterteil eines Schafes. An den großartigen Reportagefotografen des 20. Jahrhunderts geschult, wählt er lieber das Detail und die Dynamik als die Vollständigkeit. Ich befragte ihn zu seiner Arbeitsweise, seiner Heimat Island und Susan Sontag.

Foto: Copyright Ragnar Axelsson


Susan Sontag is wrong


It is something magical about the cold and the loneliness. It is opening my eyes to the world and how great it is, it clears your mind and makes one think start looking at the world in a different way. Our planet is our only home and we have to show respect for it. It will also be the big topic in the upcoming years as the north is melting fast with consequences not known what they will do to our planet, our only home.

In your book „Last Days of the Arctic” you raise a monument for the Arctic. Many times before photography depicted loss – how did you approach your subject? What was the most moving moment during your work?

I did approach my subjects slowly and gained their trust, the Inuit people are wonderful people with a big heart.
The most moving moments where when I was with the hunters on the ice and freezing the moments in a life that might be facing great changes in years to come. The moving moments were also when I felt the friendship among the people that gave me the chance to document their life and showing me their world.

 

Since the beginning of your career you have been working for the biggest Icelandic newspaper – business has changed a lot ever since. It seems like the best times for photo essays as well as for papers are over. Can you gain something positive out of that fact?

It is a sad thing to see how the media world has changed to something that does not work. It is mostly about famous people who don´t know themselves what they are famous for. It is not about real life anymore using great photo essays. Photography will go more into books or on the internet and that is something that is great but it is more difficult to do great stories today in photography as it costs a lot of money.

Looking at your images I realize that photography is a media of halt and reflexion and that is what I like about it most. Do you remember why you became a photographer?

Yes I do. I was very young and found old Life magazines and Stern where I saw great photographs, I could flip through the pages for hours and dream. My father was also taking photographs and I got my first camera from him and he showed me how to print and there was no way of quitting photography after that.

Your images have an almost religious attempt in my eyes, maybe because they show the simple life and survival of people in a mighty nature. What kind of self-understanding do you have as a photographer – could you imagine to be a war photographer?

I have photographed riots and I was in the Baltics when the Soviet army was there killing people. We just got away from being shot and I had the feeling that I was doing something there that matters to show to the world. I don’t think I would like to be a war photographer, there is no photograph that is worth dying for. I feel I was doing something in the north and the cold places like Greenland that might do something to our world and to history just as much as showing war.

When I read Susan Sontag in University I gave up photography, because her critic is a total destruction of photography. Do you think photography is something predatory?

Susan Sontag is wrong as many other writers that think they are bigger than God, I have so much fun reading some of their quotes regarding photography. If some of those great writers where writing the bible again and Jesus was walking on the planet they would not use a photograph of him, would that be clever :-)

Do you take digital photos? Why or why not? How did digital photography changed the world in your opinion?

Yes I do take digital photographs for the newspaper. I do most of my personal work on film and on my digital Leica monochrome which is like using film with its black and white images. Digital changed the world of photography and now everybody is taking photographs on their cell phones, magazines and newspapers don’t use photographs or great photographers as they used to do. I wonder why they are going down. In my mind it is not just the internet killing the papers it is also the stories most magazines and papers are using, which are just not good enough.

When I once come visiting Iceland, what is a must to see? Will I find the Iceland of your photos?

You can find the Iceland I photographed but I will have to show you where because some have changed and some of the old farmers and fishermen have passed away. But there is much to see that is interesting.

www.rax.is

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