Asger Carlsen Interview on His Book Wrong

In the last few weeks, Mörel Books published a book on Asger Carlsen titled Wrong. I am always sad to say that I do not know everything and I had not seen Carlsen's work. Since discovering his work and in combination with viewing the work of Gerry Johansson in Ulan Bator, I am once again obsessed with black and white photography and feel that I have thrown color to the curb (well, in my own shooting and at least for a brief time). Carlsen's new project could not be more accurately titled. When looking at it, I recall the trite expression "that is just wrong". The photos are not right and the more time I spend with them, the more they confront me and the more complex they become. It becomes a surreal almost drug-induced experience where I question if I see the photo that way or if my history and my biases are defining and forming the image. They are ever-so-simple, yet with multiple layes of complexity. Here I asked Carlsen a few questions about this project, the book, future work and influences.

copyright Asger Carlsen from Wrong by Mörel Books

MM: When and why did you move to NY?

AC: I have always been fascinated by the United States and the "undefined" way of living here. It’s pretty much up to you what kind of live you wanna live here. For me, it’s a very entertaining way to go by life, but to make a long story short I got a working VISA and moved out of Denmark.

copyright Asger Carlsen

MM: Was your project Detour influenced by the work of other contemporary European photographic "explorers" of the US? Jacob Holdt or Robert Frank, for example? Where and why did you select the route you took?

AC: As far as road trip photography, I think Jacob Holdt latest "US 1970- 1975" book-- I think it’s some of the most fearless and conscientious photography I have ever seen. But I would say his style is very Danish or European. I always have been a big fan of Eggelston, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, etc. What attracted me the most was the endless driving and the hunt for uncertainty experience... but for me this kind. Photography is not exciting anymore and I will never do a project like that again.

copyright Asger Carlsen

MM: In an interview on Too Much Chocolate, Vincent mentions that he thinks of Baldessari when looking at your work. My thoughts tend to go to photographs and the work of Charlie White because of the seemingly related
themes. Who are your artist influences? Why did you draw from that particular work?

 copyright Asger Carlsen

AC: I appreciate Baldessari for his ways of using mixed medias and I like the idea of not being bound to calling my self a photographer. That is just the media I have chosen to work in.  I work in photography-based material, but I also work in meat, foam, wood and dove, etc.  My concentration in "Wrong" has been more about creating my ultimate hopes of experience. I realized with the first Wrong pictures that I created the satisfaction in seeing something I didn't understand and is removed from the normal. They are "manipulated" to create new narratives in the picture.  So telling the obvious stories don’t challenge the mind in my opinion. I'm constantly on the look for the ambiguous in conversation or things I see doing my walk around the city... I guess it’s really about my strong need for entertaining myself and maybe reality is enough for me.

I'm a huge fan Charlie White and I remember I bought his book Charlie White: Photographs in London back in 2004 and I couldn't  stop looking at it. So yes he is an big inspiration for me, as well as, Evidence by Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan.

A lot of my research for Wrong comes from medical books and simple internet browsing.


 copyright Asger Carlsen

 copyright Asger Carlsen

MM: Speaking of Charlie White, his project Monsters project makes me feel a sense of voyeurism, looking on the private, snapshot moments of "humans" and questioning what is going on in the scene. For many of the photos, he creates alien appearances for many of the characters causing me to question whether I am really seeing what is the visual truth of the scene. This brings to mind many questions about the nature of photography (which I do not wish to touch at this time), but also some about your intent when producing Wrong. Is there another meaning behind your imagery dealing with your emotions towards humans, the feeling you want the viewer to feel, or is it simply your love of the manipulated image? What drove you to create Wrong?

AC: Voyeurism is like "legally" allowing spying on people’s privacy. I don't think I will ever get tired of Voyeurism.  

I really like to create an illusion that possibly could be real. The images itself is the record of one original event, but because of my alteration they loose their original language. Their connotation can mean anything. I also try not to be to specific about the idea behind each image-- I want to leave people with and open experience of the work .   

MM: What drove you to create Wrong?

AC: Creating Wrong is maybe an expression of never really belonging anywhere. I don't wanna sound "super special", but growing up I never had a feeling normality. In a way this is an outlet of that feeling.  So on a personal level this has moved me a lot ... also it has been a departure from the photography I knew and has opened me up to be able to express my ideas in any medium.

MM: You recently published the project Wrong with Mörel books in the UK? What was the process of publishing? Did Mörel select you or vice versa? What was your role in the book making? Did you help select printers, paper, etc?

AC: I got an email one afternoon from
Mörel books asking if I wanted to do "a book with Mörel books" and I said yes... I designed the book with a friend and made the order of the images. Aron Mörel and I picked the paper stock together and the printer had already made several books with Mörel books before.

MM: What process was used to print the book? Where was it printed? Did you go on press?

AC: It is printed in four-color in Turkey. I did not go to the press.   

MM:  Do you have advice for photographers looking to publish?

AC: I was lucky to be picked up by Aron
Mörel, but why not do self publishing. 

MM: I have a rolling list of blogs on my feed and I never have the time to make it through them all. Are there any that you must read? Do you still pick up paper magazines? Which ones?

AC: I really don't read magazines that much anymore.. I like to spend my money on art books.

MM: What is your favorite book, photo or otherwise? Why?

AC: I have so many I like, but to be frank now a days I look more art other art from than photography and also my fascination changes all the time…but tow Sundays I was in a really bad mood and went to local flea market and found an $12 used Man Ray book published by Aperture. I have been looking it everyday since. He had a great innovative way of using the medium and he was not control by the traditions of photography and I find that as one of the most inspiring reasons to continuing my work.            


MM: Although the lines of photographic genres are becoming blurrier, not all photographers are embraced in the art and commercial world of photography.
What do you find are some of the greatest differences when making commercial versus your personal work?

AC: I personally will never commercialize my art, but doing commercial images is really about understanding the client and then producing "product" that is with in your photography style and esthetics. I always try to push my own ideas in my commercial jobs, but the main difference in art is that you don't have to understand anyone else then yourself.


MM: I usually end by asking if there is a photo-related story you would like to share. I could not miss this opportunity with you. Do you have a story to share?

My next project is called Hester which is very inspired by the Surrealism movement. It definitely has links to the Wrong project, but a more extreme outlet for the idea. 

copyright Asger Carlsen

MM: I wanted to mention, possibly as a question, that in a conversation with one of my co-workers, he related your work to that of Hans Bellmer, namely in the Hester series, and Weegee, relating the reportage nature of the Wrong project. I can see, as you have mentioned, the relationship of Wrong with Mandel and Sultan's collection in Evidence. This connection leads to the aesthetics of Weegee, not so much for subject, but the harsh flash and the contrasty photos associated with that era's reportage imagery. But back to the Hester series and Bellmer, when looking at the photos, I see his point, but I want to ask did you draw on the work and/or the philosophies of the Surrealists? If so, which artist was the most influential in work and/or thoughts?

I have several Bellmer pieces that I have been inspired by for my Hester project. I'm experimenting with building some sculptures at the moment where I use conserved skin from chickens. Also I’m very influenced by Francis Bacon and his way interpreting the human body in such an abstract way, but it is still subtle and recognizable. So yes, I feel very drawn by Surrealists point of views. I like to think that I can use photography for something other than its "original purpose" like the way painters technically can get away blending very detailed work and casual strokes. It's a hard balance between real and fake looking. I don't think "perfect photography" is interesting at all and I don't get anything out at looking at the "beautiful image".... I want to push reality so that is why I produce my images in a low tech way.

Also, for the photographer whose work I like-- Lee Friedlander is someone I go back to over and over.

Also, read the earlier interview with Aron Mörel on this blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would argue Lee Friedlander is "perfect photography."