Norway Based Photographer’s 35mm Makes For Some Mystical Images

His photos feature landscapes, but he’s not a landscape photographer; he frequently uses people, but he doesn’t no portraits. Who is this enigmatic artist? Well, one that we’ve featured twice before on The Plus, for his Awake and Hibernation photo series. Yet Øystein Aspelund is a photographer whose work continues to develop and mature beyond precise description. This recent series, Twilight, is a soft and almost tactile exploration of the textural qualities of analogue film.


The photographic journey of this Norway-based artist started back in 2009 when he got his first DSLR camera whilst a university student in Berlin, a visually rich city that he credits with having sparked his interest in photography. His more recent work develops a style shot through with echoes of the Nordic landscape.

We got back in touch to see how – and what – he’s been doing with this mystical new series.

The Plus: How have you been since we caught up with you earlier last year?
Øystein Aspelund:
I have been traveling a lot, usually bringing my cameras along. I have also been working on new personal projects, some of which I plan to publish in 2017 if things work out well. I am also continuing the work on the Hibernation series.


TP: This series, like Awake and the Hibernation series you mention, features isolated human silhouettes; what do you think keeps bringing you back to this element?
I mostly seek to have a human presence in my works. I am not a portrait photographer, and I prefer to keep a certain distance to the subjects in the sceneries. I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer, but I enjoy shooting landscapes, were humans are as important as the landscape itself. It is the balance of human presence and the nature which fascinates me the most. A human scale also brings the viewer into the scenery, and provides a better understanding about what you actually see. The silhouette might also bring a certain level of mystic and secrecy.


TP: What locations have you used here? And how do you select them?
Most of these images are shot all over Europe, about half of them in Norway. There are additional single shots from Macedonia, Iceland, UK, Spain, Svalbard, Iceland, etc. Most of the locations were shot on the spur of the moment, but many of the spots were researched and checked in advance. I believe it could also be possible (at least for me) to see it as travel photography.


TP: What do you find to attractive about analogue film?
A lot. I feel like I am a bit closer to the core of photography when it is done this way. It is something special to get the rolls developed, and finally see what is on them.

TP: And what about the technical risks of analogue? That didn’t put you off?
Technically, it was both very simple and challenging at the same time. The series was, with a few exceptions, made on a 10-dollar plastic camera, which only got a shutter button, and a rather poor and unreliable rangefinder. No exposure, focus, or other automatic settings. I never knew how the camera and the analog film rolls would react to the temperature, light conditions etc. At the same time it only worked under certain light conditions. I have got hundreds of failed photographs during the two years I spent shooting. I also have digital versions of the same places taken simultaneously; they lack the “soul” and mystic beauty that the analogue camera rolls instantly provided.


TP: So how did you get so much film developed?
The film rolls are rather standard 35 mm rolls, but they were actually made 30 years ago in Ukraine, during the days of the U.S.S.R. The lab development in that time, behind the iron curtain, was different from the method used in the west: they used a different chemical mixture to development the film rolls. Luckily on my travels I sometimes find a local lab that is willing to take the risk and make the development for me. Normally this means that I have to wait at least 6 months before I see the final results.


TP: So what do you think about the photographic community’s attitude towards film?
I believe that in many ways they could be too focused on gear, and on making technically perfect images. To change one’s method and to experiment might also create some interesting new ideas. At least, it has done for me a few times.


TP: In your artist’s statement for Twilight you talk about “the eyes of the past looking on the present”; could you talk us through that a bit?
This could mean many things. But one rather obvious possibility is the aesthetic “footprint” left on the pictures by the aged chemicals in the rolls. Sometimes this aged look could be seen as “releasing” the shots from the time in which they were taken, making it hard to determine the time or date they were made. Sometimes I like to see the series as recovered frozen frames from the film rolls of an old, lost, and forgotten movie.