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← Nature, folklore and serendipitous photo collaborations

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Showing Revision 7 created 08/31/2020 by marialadias.

  1. Riitta Ikonen: Meet our friend Bob.
  2. We met on a wintery night
  3. in the company of the members
    of the New York Indoor Gardening Society.
  4. And one of the regulars
    was this charismatic gentleman
  5. studying the wonders
    of carnivorous plants.
  6. We were there
  7. looking for collaborators
    for an art project
  8. looking at modern humans'
    belonging to nature.
  9. Karoline Hjorth: We couldn't resist
    slipping a little note in Bob's pocket

  10. to say we'd love to hear from him.
  11. And the next day, he called us
    and excitedly proclaimed how,
  12. "This is not a time in my life
    when I want to lay around in bed."
  13. And the next week,
  14. we were all sitting on a J train
    to Forest Park in Queens.
  15. RI: Bob has worked for decades

  16. in New York's fashion
    photography industry,
  17. and he had to be replaced by three people
  18. when he eventually chose
    to move on to new adventures.
  19. Bob agreed to collaborate with us
  20. on the condition that we wouldn't
    mess with the style
  21. that he had taken many decades to perfect.
  22. So we promised to do just that,
  23. and only added a few pine needles.
  24. You might be wondering
  25. why the two of us were trimming
    Bob's pine needle beret in the park
  26. in the first place.
  27. We met a few years prior,
  28. when I was investigating on the internet,
  29. looking for a collaborator
    for an art project
  30. looking at modern humans'
    relationship to nature.
  31. So I do what people do,
  32. I go to Google and I type in three words:
  33. "Norway,"
  34. "grannies" and "photographer."
  35. And I click on the number one
    search result,
  36. which was Karoline Hjorth here.
  37. (Laughter)

  38. KH: I had just put out a book
    about Norwegian grandmothers.

  39. And initially, we teamed up
  40. to look at how natural phenomena
    were explained through human form.
  41. And we started investigating folktales
  42. in a small coastal city in Norway.
  43. RI: We reasoned that the older
    the local interviewee,

  44. the closer we would be
    to these talking rocks of these stories.
  45. KH: Agnes, for example,
    is Norway's oldest parachuting granny.

  46. Her latest jump was at 91.
  47. And this portrait is an homage
    to the fabled north wind
  48. often featured in Nordic folk tales.
  49. We met another fabled character
    called Lyktemann,

  50. on a bog just outside of Oslo.
  51. Lyktemann's presence as mysterious lights
    has been recorded for centuries
  52. in many different cultures
    under as many different names,
  53. like Joan the Wad, will-o'-the-wisp
  54. or the man of the lantern.
  55. The contemporary view
  56. or the contemporary
    explanation to these lights
  57. is that they are the product
    of ignited marsh gas.
  58. The more adventurous view
  59. is that a character appears
    when the fog hangs low,
  60. and there are unwary travelers about
    who have lost their path.
  61. RI: He is known for being
    quite a mischievous character,

  62. never quite revealing the true nature
    of his intentions.
  63. KH: And as Bengt is an expert
    in astronavigation,

  64. an ex-submarine captain
  65. and the previous chief mate
    on board the tall ship Christian Radich,
  66. Bengt was the perfect
    personification of Lyktemann.
  67. RI: In our initial quest

  68. of looking into the contemporary
    role of folklore,
  69. we were quickly pooh-poohed
  70. for looking into something seen
    as childish children's bedtime stories.
  71. Even saying the word "folklore"
    got people looking really puzzled.
  72. KH: And it wasn't just the accent.

  73. (Laughter)

  74. RI: We even had an eighth-generation
    local potter state

  75. that people from this region
  76. have come up with some
    of this nation's best inventions,
  77. and they don't have time to turn rocks
    and wonder what is under.
  78. This rejection was exactly what we needed
  79. to keep poking further into this subject.
  80. (Laughter)

  81. KH: We continued to interview people

  82. about their relationship
    with their surroundings
  83. and started wondering
  84. what's happening
    with people's imagination.
  85. Can our relationship to nature
    really be explained so pragmatically,
  86. so entirely boringly,
  87. so that a rock is just
    a good old straightforward rock,
  88. and a lake is just a basic wet place,
  89. entirely separate from us?
  90. Can our surroundings really be explained
    to such a dull degree of rationality?
  91. RI: The name of our project,
    "Eyes as Big as Plates,"

  92. is borrowed from a folk tale.
  93. And there's one with a dog
    that's living beneath a bridge
  94. and another version,
  95. where there is a troll
    doing the same thing.
  96. And this open-eyed
    and potentially risky approach
  97. to seeing the world around you
  98. has become an emblem of the curiosity
    that guides our interactions.
  99. KH: Serendipity is our project manager.

  100. And ideally, we meet our collaborators
    through random chance.
  101. In the opposite lane in the swimming pool,
  102. at the choir practice,
  103. in a noodle bar
  104. or in a Senegalese fishing harbor,
  105. as you do.
  106. Each image starts with a conversation,
  107. much like a casual interview.
  108. RI: And we never call
    these collaborators "models,"

  109. as there are three authors to each image,
  110. all equally crucial
    to the realization of their portrait.
  111. There is no age limit,
  112. absolutely anybody
    with an interesting lived life
  113. is more than qualified to join.
  114. KH: This is Boubou.

  115. His son-in-law happened to be
    in this harbor
  116. when we came looking for locations.
  117. And one impromptu house visit
    and fish market shopping spree later,
  118. Boubou and his family
    all waded in a low tide with us.
  119. RI: A wearable sculpture is born
    from the conversation

  120. with each collaborator
  121. and is made from materials
    found in the surroundings.
  122. About one third of Senegal's arable land
    is devoted to millet,
  123. an incredibly itchy-to-wear,
  124. nutritious and hardy staple
    with deep cultural roots.
  125. This is Mane,

  126. one of the grand grandmothers
    of the Ndos village,
  127. a tornado of vigor and energy.
  128. And she applauded to our invitation
  129. to portray her in her personal
    favorite crop,
  130. with which she works every day.
  131. KH: It's important
    that participation is voluntary.

  132. (Laughter)

  133. If you have doubts in the beginning,

  134. you will definitely regret it
  135. by the time Riitta is stuffing
    cold, wet bull kelp up your nose.
  136. (Laughter)

  137. Working with an analog camera
    means the process can be slow

  138. and physically challenging.
  139. The person in front of the camera
  140. might be kneeling for three hours
    in a freezing sleet,
  141. be bombarded by mosquitoes
  142. or actually, they can also be allergic
  143. to the local flora
    they've just been coated in.
  144. RI: And many other things.

  145. (Laughter)

  146. And then, there's,
    of course, the elements.

  147. Unpredictability
    is one of the main drivers
  148. that keeps this process interesting.
  149. For example, in Iceland,
  150. we were in operation mode,
    shooting for two weeks,
  151. without knowing that the camera
    was not functioning properly.
  152. Ooh, right?
  153. KH: And because we work
    with analog cameras

  154. with actual film rolls,
  155. the excitement
    from the shoots keeps giving
  156. until we pick up
    the negatives from the lab.
  157. RI: Luckily, Edda, pictured here,

  158. was one of the few that was captured
    on film in Iceland.
  159. Pictured here amid bubbling,
    steaming hot springs
  160. between two tectonic plates.
  161. Supposedly, there are these little
    hot spring birds
  162. that dive into these bubbles,
  163. and according to the legend,
  164. these little birds represent
    the souls of the dead.
  165. We have the honor

  166. of working with some of the toughest
    and bravest and coolest people around,
  167. and thoroughly enjoy
  168. how some of our works and portraits
    stomp on stereotypes about age,
  169. gender and nationality.
  170. KH: To us, much of Western society
    is unnecessarily confused

  171. when it comes to the usefulness
  172. of this absolutely
    rock-and-roll demographic.
  173. (Laughter)

  174. RI: Attitude, life experience and stamina
    are some of the main traits

  175. we have found amongst
    all our collaborators,
  176. as well as a formidable curiosity
    for new experiences.
  177. KH: We have noticed
    how the solitary figures in our images

  178. are increasingly viewed as representations
    of the age of loneliness,
  179. known as the Eremocene.
  180. RI: We are trying to encourage

  181. a new way of participating in
    and communicating with our surroundings.
  182. KH: There is the assumption

  183. that humans have created
    a new geological epoch,
  184. and we need to learn how to see
    what our role is in it.
  185. RI: We'll be working with farmers,

  186. cosmologists, geo-ecologists,
  187. ethnomusicologists and marine biologists
  188. to see how art can change
    the way we think, act and live.
  189. KH: It's not clear who or what
    is the protagonist in our work,

  190. whether it's the human figure
    or the nature around them,
  191. and we like it that way.
  192. Ten years and 15 countries
    into the project,
  193. we are not sure how, if,
    or when this project will end.
  194. RI: We have vowed to continue
    as long as it's fun,

  195. and we'll keep making new images
    and more books that explore --
  196. KH: How to balance life amongst
    the effects of the climate crisis.

  197. The writer Roy Scranton
    beautifully summarized
  198. how our project can be approached.
  199. "We need to learn to see,
  200. not just with Western eyes
  201. but with Islamic eyes and Inuit eyes,
  202. not just with human eyes
    but with golden-cheeked warbler eyes,
  203. coho salmon eyes
  204. and polar bear eyes,
  205. and not even just with eyes at all,
  206. but with the wild, barely articulate
    being of clouds and seas
  207. and seas and rocks and trees and stars."
  208. RI: Perhaps if we start seeing ourselves
    through coho salmon eyes,

  209. we might begin to synchronize better
    with our fellow flora, fauna and funga.
  210. To do this requires
    both imagination and empathy.
  211. And curiosity is at the root of both.
  212. KH: As Halvar, one of our first
    collaborators, said nearly 10 years ago,

  213. "If you stop being curious,
  214. you might as well be dead."
  215. (Both) Thank you.

  216. (Laughter)

  217. (Applause)