Arrivals and Departures at Leica Gallery, Warsaw.
October 24, 2013
by Jacob Aue Sobol
"Arrivals and Departures" opening tomorrow night at Leica Gallery in Warsaw. See you at 20!
Artist talk and book signing Saturday:
About the project:
It was a trip I had always wanted to take; The legendary journey along the Trans Siberian Railway.
Denmark, my native country, you can cross in five hours by train, but in Russia the distances are huge.
I was curious if the connection between people and places would feel different considering the fact that I would pass every tree, every house and every village on my way to Beijing.
The first chock came already when I entered the train. It was completely empty.
The whole idea of the project had been to meet people on the train and make intimate stories from the train compartments. But riding this ghost-train, I had to change the concept:
The intimate work had to come from my encounters with people in the cities and the train became the read thread connecting Moscow, Ulaanbaartar and Beijing.
On the train I ended up with my camera glued to the window photographing the change of landscape as we were let along the russian forests, the mongolian desert and through the mountains to Beijing.
But it was not only Russia, Mongolia and China that was unknown land to me - so was my equipment. It was my first time using a digital camera. Everything was new, but then again, my ambition is always the same; to use the camera as a tool to create contact, closeness and intimacy. I want to meet people, to connect with the cities, to make the places mine, even if it’s just for a short while.
I had the greatest experience in Mongolia, when I ran into a group of Mongolian hunters who invited me to join them on a trip through the mountains that surround Ulaanbaatar.
This reminded me of my life in Greenland. When I was 23 I lived in a small settlement of the East Coast of Greenland, where I was trained as a hunter. The relation you create to nature as a hunter has had a big influence on my life and my work.
Meeting the Mongolian hunter, I immediately felt like putting the camera on a shelf and picking up the riffle. When he shot and slaughtered a deer, we drank the warm blood and ate the raw liver together.
Every time I start a new project, I often start shooting in color, because I am afraid to repeat myself, but later I realize that it is not really something I can make a rational decision about.
If I can't emotionally connect with my images, if I can't feel that pinch in my stomach, they mean nothing to me, and so I always return to bw and find my voice again.
Working with black and white has always been the most direct way for me to reach more existential questions. In black and white I feel my images are not bound to a specific location or time. They create their own universe.
I like to think they are about something else and more than just what they show. At least that's my ambition; to focus on our emotions and a state of mind that is not defined by how we look or where we come from, but on the things that connect us and make us dependent on each other.
It is not a coincidence that my image of a young couple in Moscow contain the same emotions as my image of a young couple in Beijing.
The most bizarre question I ever got from a journalist was from a photo-Magazine asking me if the figures in my images were mannequins. The mannequin-series, he called it.
He simply did not believe that it was possible to photograph humans like this. But the people I photograph are real, and I look at them, and I try to find something that connect us. I try to find a piece of myself in them.
I feel warm when I look at two people desperately holding on to each other, saying: I cannot live without you.
I admire all the people I take pictures of because they put themselves in a very vulnerable position. They trust me, and it is important for me that there's a mutual understanding of this. That we are communicating in a way where it's not just ‘me looking at them’, but there's some kind of exchange.
It has always been my ambition not only to look, but also take part in life.
If I meet someone playing soccer in the street, I immediately feel like playing with them instead of just watching. I never found it interesting to look at someone from the other side of the street, or to be “invisible” as a photographer.
I hope this is the reason why people never feel like a voyeur looking at my images – because you feel that you are taking part.
To me, this is when images grow from showing to being. This is when the pictures are not telling a story about “them” but about “us”.