„I always try to convey something profound to evoke a feeling“

Kjetil Karlsen ist ein norwegischer Künstler und Fotograf. Seine Bilder erzählen ihre Geschichten mit Schatten und Bewegung. Sie sind stark mit der nordnorwegischen Natur verflochten und spiegeln die Melancholie, Einsamkeit und Abgeschiedenheit der dunklen Zeit im rauen Norden wieder. Es ist immer eine ganz besondere Atmosphäre in seinen Schwarz-Weiß-Fotografien. 


Warmed by the forest /// Tortured by light ©Kjetil Karlsen

Nicht selten findet sich eine überwältigende Stille in den Kontrasten und Übergängen zwischen Schwarz, Grau und Weiß. Das verbindende Element sind Emotionen, die durch die Aufnahme von Licht, Dunkelheit und Zeit kanalisiert und ins Innere gebracht werden. Mit einer komplexen Erzählung verschmilzt Kjetil in seinen Bildern das Sichtbare und Unsichtbare, Licht und Schatten und Augenblicke zu einem ganz eigenen visuellen Universum, das in den Bann zieht.

First of all, tell us a little more about yourself. How did you grow up? How did you begin making art? What or who got you started or inspired you in your photography?
I was born into a world where a strict belief in God reigned and where the feeling of sinning or not reaching as a human being was felt every day. I was 16 when I broke out of that world. I grew up by a beautiful fjord, surrounded by high mountains in northern Norway. And here I spent my childhood and adolescence. And that is a place I have now after many years moved back to. My creativity unfolded primarily as a curiosity, wild imagination and the fact that I wondered about my own feelings and why I felt the way I did.
My first straightforward encounter with the image format that made an impression was when my grandmother, who always carried a camera, sat looking through a newly developed flicker roll. Unsuccessful photos she put in a pile for herself. I sat next to it and looked at all the pictures. And the pictures that fascinated me the most were the pictures she discarded. Some were blurred, some had too much movement, some were over- or underexposed and some were double-exposed or cut so that the frame was dominant … Among these I found what I liked, and my imagination was triggered. They challenged me and were beautiful. Then my grandmother bought me a camera. And it all started. I have always, until a few years ago, photographed so that only I would see the pictures. I have a friend to thank for now showing my pictures in galleries and through my channels.


Forever in light – A northern norwegian summer /// My kingdom ©Kjetil Karlsen

Well, I started photographing the nature I was surrounded by. Landscapes and all the beautiful and fascinating that nature contained. The light, the darkness and all the seasons that went over and into each other, with their distinctive features.

What do you think draws you to the (dark) Norwegian landscape and nature as opposed to other genres of photography? What role does nature play in your life and in your art?
The nature here in the north is fierce and beautiful. It receives you unconditionally. And I always sought nature and its care when life was difficult. But as a whole, it gave me peace, well-being, and enabled me to live on.
I have always appreciated my melancholy qualities. I am like a northern Norwegian annual cycle … After an explosion of summer gives way to a new explosion of autumn, nature’s melancholy begins to become visible and palpable. Everything becomes migratory birds, only to eventually disappear. And again the world is cold, without colors, without sound without scents … From a sun that is up 24 hours a day, it is now dark 24 hours a day. This time of darkness lasts for many months, before the sun fights back over the horizon, and a new spring is approaching.

What are some of the themes you explore in your works?
When I started photographing, I had no role models. Art was foreign to me. I listened to music, felt and photographed. I have always seen darkness in us as as necessary and valuable as light and happiness. Everything is in us and it is for a reason. Yet most people try to ignore or deny this darkness. To me, this is absurd and destructive because it can not be denied. We can conceal it. But the make-up does not last long …
I am attracted to the melancholy in nature because it is what for me is most beautiful and in which I feel safe. A nature that is on the same wavelength with my feelings, and that gives me a feeling of being one with. Here in the north, lives are governed by the cycle of nature. It is deeply inherited from our ancestors. In my pictures you will always find the human emotions and nature.


Those who listen… /// The meeting ©Kjetil Karlsen

I always try to convey something profound to evoke a feeling. Without this perspective, everything is meaningless. I want the viewer to be forced to stop and feel and reflect. Be forced to also feel the inner spaces that may be closed. Or remember something from your own life or the unconscious. Or just feel something superficial visually like pleasure or pain, or all at once. The sensual means a lot to me, also in the pictures, and I challenge myself on the almost impossible. An example of this could be: How to convey a specific scent?

What draws you to black and white photos the most?
I do not make my pictures for them to sell. I really appreciate that they are the same, but it is not governing my work. Analog photography and the feeling the gray tones give is the reason why I prefer it. It is fascinating that so little allows for such great variety. From the burnt out white to the deep black.

Where does your fascination with melancholy and darkness spring from?
Melancholy has always fascinated me, and is something that has great value for me. A thoughtful state where reflections take place, and here in the north, nature in the dark is a trigger for this state, even though I carry it in me all the time.


Still there /// Leave with me ©Kjetil Karlsen

How do you develop your picture ideas? 
When I go out to create images, I always have an idea of what to make, but never any plan. The images are created there and then. But I always adhere to my own rules for photography. They are simple and invisible to most people who see: I can only use that natural light, and I always have to add an element that is place-bound to each place where I create my images. It will be seen by the viewer as a blur or turmoil in the image. But what it really is are physical objects that are carried over, or held in front of the lens by exposure. It can be moving straw, textiles or glass I find where I am. Or a feather … Anything. That way, I feel like I’m incorporating an extra element into the image.

There is a gloomy silence to your pictures. What does silence mean to you?
Silence is a friend to me. There is no threat in silence, just a concentration where I can feel more. Silence is spaces where I create. In silence there are changes …

What influence does music have on your creative process?
Music has always been a source of inspiration for me, and I can not live outside it. Here I am always on the lookout for more. Music can have an enormous influence. And sometimes I have photographed solely to convey my version of a song or piece of music.


Foreigner /// Inferno (in white) ©Kjetil Karlsen

What are your first musical memories? What kind of music are you listening to?
My first memories of music are from the classical world. But in adulthood, it’s like other art that strikes me, what music does to me when I hear it. I listen to everything that gives something, but always return to artists in ambient, dark/black ambient, post rock, black metal, prog, jazz and artists from the indie scene.

How did you get into creating album artwork?
I get a number of inquiries from artists or record companies, with questions about making a cover for an album. And most of the time I do it, if I can vouch for the music. So sometimes I make covers for the music, and other times the atist / record company has seen a picture that fits the album. I like working with others. It is challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Among your projects, which series or photograph is your favorite, and why it is special to you?
If I were to choose images that mean something special to me, it’s very difficult. In many ways, I have a power relationship with all of them, because I go so deep into it with my emotions. But this series („Roots“) is too intense, intimate, sensual and very emotional. Where my feelings have become these feelings in the picture. Which is very visible when you look more closely. They are taken through a week, and when I see them afterwards, you can clearly see the reflection of my own feelings in nature. The pictures are apparently similar. They are taken in an ancient forest, and it’s just me, the forest and the silence. But walking some of the days, my fear was palpable … And in these pictures, clear faces appear in nature, which I saw when I got the pictures printed. The series is also special because it is in one place, inaccessible to most people and far from other people. In this place, my family and I spend several long periods during a year. A place where the human mind is toned down to the pulse of nature, and one becomes open and vulnerable.


Roots -The burden /// Roots – Healing ©Kjetil Karlsen

If you look back – how do you feel your aesthetic has changed over the last years?
The aesthetic for me is that it must feel, give me an association. And I want to say that in my world there has been a greater honesty than what I saw before. People have become freer and it is no longer so important to follow all the others, but to be true to what one feels. In this lies a great change from the time when I was young, and felt quite alone to think what I thought, and liked what I liked.

What are the narratives behind „The time it takes“? How did your exhibition come about? Why does this topic mean so much to you?
The exhibition „The time it takes“ was an exhibition at a gallery I have had an exhibition at before, and I applied to have several exhibitions at. And the title is exciting and for me the most undercommunicated concept we surround ourselves with. Because everything takes time! Wounds that heal, grief that must be processed, learning from experience, maturity… And for art you have to give the time it takes. If not, one does not perceive the whole and the message.

What are you most looking forward to?
I look forward to the continuation of my life, with new projects and collaborations. Exhibitions and maybe book projects. We’ll see :-)


The time it takes /// The time it takes (cold version) ©Kjetil Karlsen

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