Interview with Per Morten Abrahamsen
I am moving away from the extreme type of staging, which I have focused on for many years. I still conduct the framework, but I allow things to happen; I let go of my control. It’s a question of having an open attitude to the situation, and trusting the people I am working with. Whether it’s advertising, fashion or anything else, it doesn’t become interesting until people contribute with something. Without that extra value the picture is just irrelevant, and it’s of little importance whether the staging is fantastic. Of course, it’s more risky to work this way, more raw.
Does that mean that previously you had imagined the picture in advance?
Yes, and that’s boring. You don’t know which women you’re going to love in advance. You don’t know until you are confronted by her. Naturally, the basic things, the framework, still have to be right, because otherwise it’ll just be crappy. But a photograph is a meeting between people, and if I don’t contribute something to that meeting , I don’t get anything in return. I can easily attempt to figure everything out in advance, but as a rule that would make it rather contrived. The person I photograph has to add their part; something disturbing has to be added to the picture, some life - there is nothing more boring then a picture without life. A model who just stands there means nothing to me. If the subjects are thinking about their next cup of coffee, it shows in the picture.
What do you do if things just don’t buzz?
Sometimes things just don’t happen - things just turn out trivial. But then I get stubborn. It has been many years since I have returned without anything useful. If you keep on trying, something suddenly happens. Perhaps the weather changes, someone phones or people get crossed. Two times out of three you land in a black hole and everything seems hopeless. Back then I always panicked when that happened. But now I wait for the clouds to lift a little and for a possibility to appear. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m up shit creek, I show it openly, that’s better than pretending that nothing’s wrong, because it creates synergy when you dare to open. You can’t fake playing a game. You have to wait until there’s someone to play with, and then it’s important that I take the lead because unless I do people won’t play along. If people can sense genuine enthusiasm they want to be with you. And taking photographs is a game; it’s quite intimate and I breaks down barriers, for me to. I’m often more modest than the people I have to photograph.
You’ve photographed a lot of well-known people. How much do you think about the person before you meet to take the pictures?
I don’t like to know too much, because you can seldom put that known-ledge to any good use. Photographing people is just like meeting them for real - maybe you can charm them, maybe not. In the past I’ve tried to pressure people, but often that doesn’t work. Once things start to go wrong, they really go wrong. It’s not that you have to be Mr. Nice-guy, you don’t have to please – you have to be honest to get something out of people. I’m a very experienced director, but I’ve got no idea if my framework is viable before I’m out there. Generally speaking, I still think it’s difficult to take photographs. I still sometimes lie awake at night before a shoot.
How do you think people regard you?
Some people think that I’m an uncontrollable artist, which is quite wrong. I can easily distinguish between getting involved in other peoples’ ideas and realizing my own. I have no problems carrying out a assignment, and it doesn’t have to flashy, big or anything like that. I have always two parallel careers; commissions and more artistic. But they overlap, and many of the picture which people think are artistic are in fact work that has been commissioned.
Interview: Martin Kongstad