Paul S. Amundsen interviewed by Sara Vaagsmyr
Paul S. Amundsen has been an independent photographer since 2001. He works primarily for newspapers, magazines and publishing houses. His images have been published in newspapers such as, The New York Times, Politiken, as well as multiple Norwegian newspapers and magazines. He has also won an award of excellence in Picture of the Year International in 2014 and has won 18 prizes in the Norwegian Picture of the year competition.
Can you describe you photography style?
I use to say that I have different styles, depending on what kind of project I am working on at the moment. One project can be shot in neutral colours, another may be done in a more personal way, like A Memoir of a Boy. My projects are always rooted in a documentary tradition where situations are unaltered.
Why do you shoot analogue?
Today I am mainly working digital, however sometimes I shoot analogue with a large format camera in order to create something that is completely different in style, format and perspective. I like the slowness of working with large format sheet film. I need to concentrate and work very slowly, and I like the end result, that’s even more important.
How do you come up with your projects?
Project planning has been important for me in many years. I have a list of ideas that I update frequently. Sometimes the idea is just a place or a country. What can I do in Japan? On Svalbard? Along European Route E39? A place is often a good starting point for a project, or a person. If I meet an interesting person, he or she may be the subject in one of my projects.
What do you hope to achieve with your projects?
First of all I want people to see the projects and hopefully find them interesting, or even better, feel something.
What is your favourite project, and why?
I love to travel along the road with my large format camera, so I have to admit that European Route E39, which will be expanded to other European roads, is my favourite project at the moment. It’s so great to be on the road in Europe. I meet a lot of nice people and I get to know a very fascinating continent.
How did the story “A memoir of a boy” come up, and why did you shoot it?
I first met Moises, that her name was at that time, in 2009. At that time Moises lived a life in-between two genders. I knew that a lot would happen in her life in the coming years, and I asked if I could document her daily life. I thought it would be interesting to document the process. At first she refused the idea, but after four months she all of a sudden changed her mind and invited me to photograph her life. The title for the project should be A Memoir of a Boy, she said.
What is the story about?
A few years before I began documenting her life, she lived a completely different life as a young gay man in the Philippines. In 2008 he moved to Norway, married a Norwegian man and began working as a nurse in Bergen, Norway. However, the relationship did not last and after just one year she got divorced. After the break up a lot of things happened in Moises life, and one day Moises realised that he was transgender.
What was the process of the project?
After she decided to let me photograph her life, things were quite easy as she was a very open and welcoming person. I could photograph almost everything, and she really enjoyed being photographed.
How did you interact with Moises/Moi/Aira?
I visited Moises quite often, and photographed daily activities in her apartment and in Bergen city. To begin with we really did not know each other at all, but after a while we became quite good friends. Later she invited me to document everything that would happen in her life, including her journey to the Philippines and Thailand, where she underwent sex reassessment surgery.
What are your reflections on the story?
Well, it is a said and tragic story. She died four months after the operation. We both hoped it would be a different story about Moises finding her true identity, and a good stable life as Aira. However, after the surgery she was not so happy. She expected everything to be perfect when she finally got her new passport with her new official name. I think she believed the sex reassignment surgery would make her life perfect, and remove all her problems, but it didn’t and I think that’s why I made the final story so dark and moody.
Are you currently working on new projects? If so, what are they about?
Currently I am working on a long-term project about Europe. I photograph people and places with an old large format camera. I am also making a visual portrait of leisure time in Norway. The working title is Norwegian Landscapes, and the project features Norwegians spending their leisure time outdoors.