Danish photographer Albert Grøndahl © Albert Grøndahl (www.albertgrondahl.com)

Danish photographer Albert Grøndahl © Albert Grøndahl (www.albertgrondahl.com)

Echoes of lost words

39NULL met the young Danish photographer Albert Grøndahl for an interview to discuss his fascination with exposure and concealment.

39NULL: 'Five naked people standing in a forest clearing, their clothes piled in front of them, staring at the observer, their faces covered with large exotic masks'. A short description of 39NULL's cover from the current issue 'DAS FREMDE/THE OTHER'.  For us the cover elicits similar emotions that we encounter when something or someone is unknown; rejection, curiosity, fascination. Can you tell me briefly about the realization of your work "An Island"?

Albert Grøndahl: The work was created during a stay on a small Danish Island called Samsø in 2009, that I have a dear connection to. Photography, as I see it, is an act of confrontation. It’s a direct communication with the outside world and with one’s own speechless dreams and emotions. I enter this place, meet these people I don’t know, and as I try to win their trust and acceptance, I also fill the space around me with my own presence and ideas. I always start out as the newcomer, the underdog, and as I approach my subject and make myself known, I gradually try to persuade it to open up. I do so by not holding back, investing everything I have in terms of enthusiasm and presence. Photography is a necessity, it keeps me going and I’m fascinated by the idea of the lonely man, his walks without direction and his camera – it simply becomes an excuse to engage with the very simple things that surround us. Personally, photography’s narrative potential interests me, but not in terms of the logics of straightforward storytelling or the effort to illustrate preconceived and abstract notions, but in the sense that the images may point to a person’s inner life and to the hidden secrets of a place, its cultural meaning or private connotations. I think that in photography lie echoes of lost words, forgotten worlds and I find this precious in its own fragmented form. My work will appear if I allow myself to intuition and instinctive recognition. You should never let an open door pass.

The mask is a recurring item within your work. It does not take a great amount of research in cultural history to claim that, until now, the mask is a universal cultural product that has been used in many ritualistic and artistic contexts. The veiling of the face may have several meanings : Protection, to hide oneself, to become anonymous or obliterated and for the transition into alternative roles. The mask acts as a tool which enables one to transform into someone else, questing the untrue. However, it can also be deceptive as it morphs someone's appearance into something they will never be.  It allows them to play roles, ones in which they may not normally assume. Does anonymity manifest itself as positive or negative? Is it a form of liberation or confinement? Does one take part in reality when they are 'altered' and/or covered and if so, what are the motives for disguise/transformation in today’s society? 

I won’t deny the notions of the mask, but there is also no bigger intellectual reason for this. The mask for me is more of a visual attraction of these elements, belonging to the jungle; to a world, which was very far from the middle class Copenhagen childhood room which I grew up in. I have had a natural curiosity towards everything that you could dream about as a kid who opens a book called "Le monde et son Visage", showing African ethnography, wild hunters of New Guinea and Polar expeditions. All these images took you on a great journey within your fantasy and I think I’m still drawing my attention to these memories. I have been fascinated by the mask, and in some works the mask became a tool in order to play with a more anthropological reference as a way to dramatize what it means to be the observer. In some situations it became a tool to “light” a certain situation or you can say that it became an element to take the chemistry between the observer and his subject to a different layer. It´s like the one who comes to a foreign place wishing to explore the unknown and understand the enigmatic and somehow trying to get lost while learning more about who I could be. A simple shift of roles

We have had feedback from some of our readers that they didn’t like the cover. They have said that they found it outlandish and were disgusted. On the other hand, others found it to be the perfect representation on the subject. What do you think provokes people?

Well, I think its positive that it has an effect on the audience, but as soon as these photographs are leaving my darkroom, they do not share my full attention anymore. They leave “the family” of work in progress, the spine of ongoing work, the element that has to be consistent all the time, the family I’m bringing up, the concentrated work I’m nursing and yelling at. When it’s out in the world, sold, published and exposed they are like grown up teenagers, I did what I could but they are not in my hands anymore.

Since the 24th of April you have shown your work in the gallery 'Simon/Neuman2' in Brooklyn New York. The work has been shown under the title "Undercover”, alongside works by the artist Ruvan Wijesooriya . You both seem to deal with the conscious and unconscious, dressing, concealing, and hiding among others behind masks. What is it that fascinates you about disguise, veiling and the lamination of reality?

Well, disguise does not fascinate me in general, but it has been an area that I have explored. I have used it as a simple tool to take my narrative to different and unexplored places and I believe it has been a helping hand to wipe out fragments of reality and afterwards bringing something new, yet still real. But it is a mistake to believe that one can  get closer to something surreal by only using disguise as a signature.


Das Interview führte Martin Santner.