Andrea Gjestvang interviewed by Martine Kolstad
After graduating from Oslo University College in 2003, then working for different newspapers and magazines back in Norway, why was it that you decided to move to Berlin?
I wanted to move out of my comfort zone as a photographer. Instead of working as a feature photographer for newspapers and weekend magazines in Oslo I wanted to pursue more my own projects and find a creative space for my self. Berlin is a great place for that.
When did you start to find your politic within your photography?
I was always socially committed and photography is a great channel for that. Of course I became more sophisticated and engaged when I gained experience and developed as a photographer. When I worked on my first long-term project in Greenland, I had a strong experience of finding my voice and my vision as a storyteller.
Your project “Everybody knows this is nowhere” exploring small communities up North in Norway. What made your interest in this project?
When working in Greenland I became fascinated by youth who grew up and live in harsh and remote areas – far away from the urban trends and the popular culture they consume. I was interested in the tension between what the youths are passionate about and dream about, and the environment surrounding them. On a personal level, Finnmark is a part of home that was totally unfamiliar to me.
In a lot of your projects it seems that you are able to get really close to your subjects, your frames and portraits are quite intimate. Have you faced any challenges while photographing intimate projects?
To access the people and the communities I want to photograph is always a challenge. The challenges are a part of what makes photography interesting to me. For me it is necessary, I believe you need to come close to the people in order to be able to tell something about them and their lives. This can only be achieved if you don’t act as a stranger yourself.
Do you have a special technique when you approach your subjects ?
Don’t be a stranger and don’t project your insecurity on the people you are photographing. Be open about your goals and what you are doing. Spend time and be persistent, put away the camera and just get to know your subjects.
You have won a lot of prices throughout the years, which one is the one you feel most proud of?
Winning the L’iris d’Or – Photographer of the Year 2013 in Sony World Photography Awards was fantastic and I am very proud of that.
What would you say inspires you the most into doing a project?
Both my journalistic interest in what is going on in the world and my personal “stomach feeling” and intuition are important when I start a new project. I get my inspiration from magazines, movies, literature, music, art… But most of all from being out there talking to people and experiencing things.
When you did the book on the survivors of Utøya, what were your feelings around it when you first started, and how did they develop throughout the project?
I was deeply sad and shocked after what had happened, like everyone else. At the same time I was convinced that it was important to collect the stories of the young survivors from Utøya. And to tell them in a more quite and open way than the ordinary media coverage allowed. I believed this was really important and I felt I could do that. Even if it was hard and emotional to photograph the survivors, I felt it was a meaningful and important contribution to our collective memory of the horror of 22nd of July 2011. The project changed the way I look upon the world and how I see my role as a photographer.
I can imagine it was challenging and a tough thing to do. Your images reflects a lot of trust and strength, they have a lot of affect.
Was it an obvious project for you personally to do?
Yes, it was. As a Norwegian photographer who was already working on stories concerning youths, I felt strongly that this was a project I wanted to do. In the beginning though I was not sure whether it was possible to access the survivors.The images I’ve chosen are from the series “Everybody knows this is nowhere” which explores the restless lives of adolescents growing up in Finnmark, the northernmost part of Norway. The young generation in Finnmark is the future: they carry with them the responsibility of keeping their small hometowns alive and building sustainable businesses in the area. But adolescents in these remote areas face different challenges than other teenagers: the Internet, magazines and television allow them the same input of popular culture, yet they do not have an equal chance to partake. The project depicts the social challenges related to depopulation and small communities versus globalization, but the interest lies in the tension between what the youths are passionate about and dream about, and the reality surrounding them.