Olav Løkke

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 Arne Valen.

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 projects.

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.