GEIR M. BRUNGOT: COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS 2002-2015
Norwegian artistic photography underwent an enormous evolutionfrom the 1960’s to the mid 1980’s. There had of course been great
artistic photographers in Norway from the birth of photography, but
from the late 1960’s on there appeared a whole new generation,
which took the artistic photography many steps further. It started
with some photographers, both from the established generation and
from the young and up and coming came together and founded
the FFF (Forbundet Frie Fotografer) in 1974. Then, three years later,
in 1977 the Fotogalleriet started up, a gallery that would become
the publically best known and distinctly profiled photographic
institution in the public domain.
Both institutions and the milieu around them were comprised
of photographers from the press, commercial photographers,
institutions, photographic schools in other countries and from
the camera clubs. It was also a milieu that was dominated by the
members coming from the greater Oslo-area. Relatively few of the
members of the FFF lived outside of the central area around Oslo,
and were more or less neglected by the Oslo-milieu. Even larger
cities like Bergen and Trondheim had very few photographers
acknowledged by the the more centrally situated photographers,
even though there was people like Jens and Leif Hauge in Lærdal,
Børge Kalvig in Stavanger, Alf Edgar in Kristiansand, Solveig Greve
in Bergen and Siggen Stinessen in Tromsø.
This was how it was all the way through the 1980’s, and even if it
has evened out a bit , there is still an unproportionate big part of
Norwegian artistic photography centered around Oslo.
In an attemt to mend this situation, the FFF arranged a Photobiennale,
first in Trondheim in 1983, and two years later in Lofoten.
There was also two later biennales, in 1987 and 1989,
but they were arranged in Oslo.
The photographic community were somewhat extended through
these biennales, mostly through the lectures and workshops.
One of the photographers entering the Norwegian photographic
community through a workshop was Geir M. Brungot from
Sykkylven close to Ålesund.
He arrived at the workshop given by
Lewis Baltz in Lofoten in 1985, coming from a typical Norwegian camera club,
and had found out that the camera club
was way too much occupied with techniques
and gadgets, and with very
conservative esthetic norms and frames far
too constrained for him.
Lewis Baltz was
already then one of the leading artists in
the movement called “New opography”,
a direction in landscape photography that had set it’s goal to
redefine the genre, away from the heroic and spectacular towards
a more neutral and honest rendering of our natural environment.
This movement had a great impact on Norwegian landscape
photography, especially through the group “Norsk Landskap”,
consisting of the photographers Per Berntsen, Jens Hauge, Johan
Sandborg and Siggen Stinessen. Also with pho-tographers like
Karen McFarlane and Helge Nareid it is clear to see the impact
this new direction had. Both McFarlane and Nareid participated
in the workshop, but it was clearly Geir that came closest to Lewis
Baltz. For Geir it was a complete turnaround from what and how
he had worked like before, and he stuck with Lewis Baltz day and
night. Photographing “back to back” during the day and discussing
photography during the night. For Geir this resulted in a series, “Manscape” which started with the pictures made in Lofoten, and
was brought to a conclusion with similar pictures made over the
next few years in Sunnmøre. Also Lewis Baltz made a series there
in Lofoten called “Continous Fire Polar Circle”.
On Geir’s initiative they made an exhibition merging the two
projects, and Per Hovdenakk wanted to show it at the Henie
Onstad Art Center near Oslo, This
exhibition was cancelled for some reason,
but it was shown at the Fotogalleriet in
1996, which resulted in the Museum
of Contemporary Art’s purchase of both
photograpers work. A selection of Geir’s
series was also a part of a group show
with the photographers Geir M. Brungot,
Eva Klerck Gange, Sidsel Jørgensen and
In the years following the Lofoten workshop
Geir was frenetically active with new photographic projects.
The first series was called “Heimsavn”, meaning «The Longing for
Home», i.e. the place where you grew up and your roots are.
He brought with him what he had learnt in Lofoten, and made a
suite of images that with longing and humour observes the physical
and spiritual landscape from where he came.
What mostly characterizes Geir is a pronounced restlessness and
an unquenchable curiosity, and it clearly comes to show in the
many and very different projects he produced from 1985 to the late
1990s. The next projects were as different as “Coastal Landscapes”, “The World According to Me” and “Concrete Landscapes” These
series, including “Manscape” overlap each other to a certain
degree, showing that there are marked differences, but also striking
similarities, showing the coherence of his work. A series that in
many ways make a break with these early projects and exhibition
is the exhibition project “Only the Lost are Eternally Owned”.
In its original form it is a small, consentrated series. In the first
showing at Møre og Romsdal Artcenter in Molde there was only
four pictures, images telling a story of death and loss. The background
was that Geir and his then wife had lost their daughter of
sixteen months during a heart surgery.
The images are very quiet and sorrowful,
very personal, but not private. This exhibition
were reworked into a slightly larger
traveling exhibition by and for Nordnorsk
Artmuseum in Tromsø in 2002, and
became a part of “The cultural Schoolbag” and being shown at schools and
smaller venues all over Northern Norway.
The exhibition was also shown
in Trondheim Kunstmuseum in 2006,
and then comprised eleven pictures.
He later took up the theme of death in a separate installation in
his big show in Aalesund Kunstforening in 2012. The name of this
installation was “Smrt”, the Slovak word for death. This installation
were made up of pictures, video, projection and objects like gravelights,
but not the original black and white prints from the original
series. He was divorced from his first wife around 2003, and later,
in 2007 married a woman from Slovakia, a relationship that also
was dissolved a few years ago.
As I have said earlier, Geir is a restless person, but Sykkylven
has always been his homebase. In spite of this he has spent long
periods outside of Norway. The first serious, working stay was in
Barcelona in 2002. The stay resulted in the exhibition “Barcelona
Manscape”, that shows emty urban landscapes devoid of humans,
but also a small series of portraits, photographed straight on
with the person placed in the middle of the image looking at the
photographer. All these series had been reworked and changed
many times, a method that is typical for him. He works very
intuitively and is in fact never finished with his projects.
One example is a project called “Restar
/ Leftovers”. I think he got the idea when
we were talking about these strange
snippets of nature being left over when
new roads and industrial parks were being
developed, pieces of earth, not being
used for anything, just lying there like the
center of a roundabout or the untended
sides of the road.This series has yet to
make it’s own exhibition, but parts of it
has been shown in connection with other
He had two stays in Paris, both financed by a grant for half a year
each, and with accomodation at the Cité in the middle of the city.
In addition to Paris and Barcelona he also had long residencies
in Prague, Vienna and Hanover. He used these extended stays to
work on new projects and to extend existing ones. That makes it
rather difficult to date both the projects and the pictures in them,
except for one. He got a grant from the Telemark County for a stay
at Jomfruland, an idyllic island off the Telemark coast. There he
made a complete and finished series called “Campingwagons”,
depicting 48 trailers closed for the winter at a camping site. All of
them (except one) photographed from the same side, in the same
grey, rainy light. This project was shown at Haugar Kunstmuseum
in Tønsberg together with Siggen Stinessen’s project of houses, and
will also be a part of his exhibition at Kunsthall Grenland in 2017.
Now, to try to get a chronological overview of his colour
production. He had worked sporadically with colour through his
career, but when he was in Barcelona in 2002 he forced himself
to make only colour photographs. The subject of this exhibition
is mentioned above, and they were shown for the first time at
Kunstbanken Hamar in 2004.
The year after, in winter and spring,
2004-2005, he got his first stay in Paris.
Here he produced a whole new series,
in fact he started three quite different
project. One is called “Reflexions de
Paris”, pictures mostly in and around the
new Bibliotheque National with it’s steel
facades and it’s straight lines reflecting
the Parisian weather. Some of his friends
from Cité were also photographed there,
among them his slovak wife to be.
He also started a series of people photographed from behind
and the third series is a suite of pictures showing abandoned
playgrounds. Pictures from this stay were shown at Galleri F 15
in Moss, and also in the big exhibitions of his colour work shown
at Trondheim Kunstmuseum in 2006 and in Kunstmuseet Kube
in Ålesund a year later. The exhibition was called “Life is a local
affair”, and includes pictures from “Leftovers”, portraits both frontal
and from behind and from “Reflexions de Paris”. One could also
get a little glimpse of his new series “Look Up”.
His next project was as mentioned “Look Up”. Here he photographs
buildings seen from below in an almost monolithic
rendering. They are tall buildings in an architectural brutalism style.
We never see the lower part of the building that meets the sky at
about half the height of the image. As always the pictures are made
in landscape format, where most people probably would have
chosen the portrait format. All pictures are made in clear,
or almost clear weather. The pictures were made in Prague where
he had moved with his new wife. From Prague is also the next
series, “Look Down”. Here he studies
what happens when he turns the camara
the opposite way, finding patterns and
structures that are not so easy to see with
the normal straight ahead gaze.
Still another series were made in Prague,
called “Inside Out”. As far as I know
all the pictures were made in a shabby,
wasteland-like aerea on the outskirts of
Prague, filled with garbage and homeless
people. I had the pleasure to accompany
him on one of his excursions there in connection with his
exhibition at the artist run gallery Meetfactory, Prague, in 2011.
It was quite intriguing how he looked at all the objects lying
around, mumbling to himself something about waiting for the
right light, circleling around, becoming genuinly happy over the
constellation of the garbage objects, and trying to explain to me
their at times absurd communication. The pictures from this place
made up the main part of the exhibition, mounted in a haphazard
way and reflecting in a way how they were first seen.
The Exhibition showed the project Campingwagons”, contrasting
perfectly with the chaos of the opposite wall. The same exhibition
was shown at the artist run gallery Eisfabrik in Hanover. The title
of the catalogue was “Inside Out Camping”, but the exhibition
was called “Fragile Memories Recycled”.
In the summer of 2013
Geir was back in Paris and Cité. He made two different but related
projects, one called “Hard City” and the other “Landscape and
People”. La Défense is a hyper modern suburb, or really a city in its
own right on the outskirts of Paris. In “Hard City” it is the patterns,
structures and geometric forms that are pictured, while the other
series shows the people living and working there seen
in comparison to futuristic environment.
The modern wasteland is also a theme in his latest series of colour
photographs. It is a tale of the building of a completely new suburb
outside Vienna called Seestadt. There are neverending flat fields
with more or less built-up infrastructure like roads, roundabouts
and underground train lines and its stations, but still no houses, no
humans. If I understand it right he will follow the project until the
new suburb is finished and the people arrive.
His latest project is a series in black and white of fences. Most of
them temporary, all of them covered with opaque plastic or some
other kind of fabric. You may get a notion of what is behind, but
nothing is revealed, everything is open to interpretation.
These pictures have a lightness in them, while at the same time
communicating a strong sense of closedness. Just this doubleness
might be the greatest strength in Geir’s photography, the ability to
show the normal, the mundane in a very straight way, but in that
same image inserting a kind of unrest like an irritating pictorial
element or a small but significant imbalance in his normally very
strict and symmetrical compositions.
So, how did he become the artist he is today? Without doubt it is
his meeting with Lewis Baltz in 1985, his “Decisive Moment”, but
first and foremost driving him is his basic personality and attitude
of unbending curiousness and restlessness. He gets inspiration from
litterature, music and films. He has always wanted to hear and see
what other artists were up to, what they did, why, and how they did
it. Over the last 30 years he has visited me many times, especially
in the first years, and he usually kept awake throgh the night going
through all my books on photographic art, and the next day rushing
around at exhibitions or meeting other photographers, preferably
in their studios. He works with everything he finds interesting or
challenging, and has made both videos, installations and sculptural
art, and will probably never settle down with on expression or
one technique. He has a formidable capasity and always has
new projects going, but he also has a will and ability to finish his
projects that should be the envy of most artists.