Asger Carlsen makes photographs that will put a chill down your spine, a laugh at the back of your throat, and a question in you head. He has the ability to take the bazaar, awkward, creepy parts of imagination and bring them into reality with a casualness that says, you don't see this kind of thing all the time? I got the chance to talk with him about his work, specifically two series: Wrong and Hester. The former sticks right on with what I just said while the latter takes the human body into surreal sculpture. Both projects are available as books through his website. Read on and check out the work.
You are originally from Denmark but are now living and working in New York. Which do you prefer?
New York is my home now, sometimes I think that maybe I could live in another city... but just don't know where.
What camera or cameras do you like to shoot with?
Digital is easier then film. I use canon.
How did you get into photography in the first place?
I got into photography when I left school. I was 16 and I interned for a week at a local newspaper. I liked it so much that I just kept on showing up after the one week was over. I ended up working there for 7 years.
I basically just kept on showing up after that one week with new pictures, mostly it was "small town events" like some local guy who was driving drunk and wrecked his car or the queen of Denmark visiting town. I didn't like school and it almost felt easy for me to start photographing like that.
After 10 years of that I went more in to shooting only for magazines and add jobs and later I became more interesting in artistic ideas.
I think my ideas of photography changed a lot over time. I went from being very interested in the perfect "pure" photograph to just seeing it as something I know how to do and just a material among others that I work with. I like to think that photography can be use for something else then it was invented for.
What was the intention behind creating Wrong?
I am not really conscious about my intentions. The work just happens. It's a kind of fascination and inspiration that takes off... a feeling more than anything.
My work is perhaps an expression of never having really belonged anywhere. I don’t want to sound “super special,” but growing up I never had a feeling of normality. In a way this is an outlet for that feeling. So, on a personal level, doing this has moved me a lot. It has also been a departure from the photography I know in a way.
Who or what are your influences?
Evidence by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel has been a major inspiration ever since I saw it the first time. Both Wrong and Hester were influenced by surrealistic ideas. Like Frances Bacon figures.
John Stezaker’s "masked portraits" I really respect for their very simple constructions. In my own work I’m very interested in creating shapes and figures out of the ordinary - limiting content but still keeping an association to something familiar.
Without revealing too much, what is your process in creating one of these images for Wrong?
I suffer from lack of planning in every way of my life. So my ideas always come from a feeling or a fascination. That could originate in something very random I see of hear.
I photograph all my images myself. Also I build most of probes in my kitchen. My materials are wood, meat, foam, dough... and pictures.
What are you trying to say with these closed off, awkwardly statuesque figures in Hester?
My subjects are always left open to interpretation. But Hester is about leaving reality and I’m trying to create a sculptural shape out of something as normal as the human body.
On the other hand, I'd say that Wrong is trying to bring those scary weird parts of your imagination to reality. There is a certain amount of theatricality that creates these seemingly real moments. I imagine some of this is added after the photograph is taken (like with the double head shots), but how do your subjects in the other images relate to these objects that you are adding in? Can you talk about the theatrical aspects of these images?
I had no Intention of being specific about a subject or creating theatrical style. Most of my inspiration is random and is not very premeditated. I think some subjects have reference to something seen before and others are completely pulled away from anything that makes sense.
I was more drawn to destroy the realty in the images and open up for a new understating- or leave a feeling that the image will really never explain it self. So there is no relation between the images and what I add.
If you could make any photograph happen, in your wildest dreams, what would that look like?
I don't really know before I see it. But it would be something that I haven't seen before. I like new a lot.