AsgerCarlsen_04

Asger Carlsen‘s black-and-white photographs create an uncanny vision of the grotesque. The tension between the realist style of his photographs and their unreal subject matter creates a seamless platform from which we can ruminate over our own physical mortality. His books include Wrong (Mörel Books, 2010) and the newly released Hester (Mörel Books, 2012). Carlsen lives and works in New York, NY.


Asger Carlsen

Greg Jones: First off, Asger, tell us about how you became interested in photography, and where does the inspiration to create such haunting work come from?

Asger Carsen: I got into photography when I was a young boy. I felt drawn to the openness. I discovered that the images I made could be associated with who I was as a person. Like a silent way of saying things, or expressing a mood.

GJ: The title of your work, Hester, calls to mind the famous protagonist Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Hester is shunned by her community and forcibly visibly marked for a grave sin that she has committed in their eyes. The figures in your work are obviously human, but appear to have been irreversibly altered as well. Was this reference intentional, or is there another reason for the name?

AC: Hester is really the street I live on in New York and that is where I made the first images. For me, the name is just something I couldn’t place, in terms of culture and reference. I guess it left me somewhere bizarre.


from the series Hester
© Asger Carlsen


from the series Hester
© Asger Carlsen


from the series Hester
© Asger Carlsen

GJ: There’s a strong element of horror in these pictures, punctuated by the informal documentary style you used to make them, which creates a suggestion of believability. The idea of the “Grotesque” stands out to me, and it recalls the work of Joel Peter Witkin. Would you call him one of your influences? Who are some others?

AC: I know Joel’s work and it’s good, but I studied everything I could possibly find, from medical books to known artists. All this work I’m doing comes from a desire to become a studio based artist more than just a photographer (which I don’t really consider myself as anymore) that travels for subjects. I want my works to look like sculptures, or photographs of such. My work comes from photo sessions done in my studio and I see this process more as collecting material for my process – like buying oil paint to put on a canvas. I was influenced by the work of Francis Bacon and Hans Bellmer and by the surrealistic movement.

GJ: It is clear that the subjects of these photographs are assembled from human parts, but are quite inhuman in their construction and positioning. In many of your photos, the subject is in a bizarre posture or environment, such as laying on a dining table or perched on a shelf. What did you hope to convey with this conflict between humanity and inhumanity in your work?

AC: I like the work to float somewhere between a reference and non-reference, having small pieces of recognizable details. For example, in the work I could have an electric plug but I don’t like any hair details on my subjects. I want the work to have a feeling of timelessness and a classic approach, and for the prints to be perceived as objects, more than just photographic prints.


from the series Wrong
© Asger Carlsen


from the series Wrong
© Asger Carlsen


from the series Wrong
© Asger Carlsen

GJ: Your photographs have the interesting quality of seeming unplanned and candid. Some have a skewed viewing angle – in one you are able to see a person’s shoe seemingly left in the frame. Many of the figures also convey, through their posture, a sense of being caught off-guard. However, it is obvious that you spend a great deal of time carefully crafting these images – there is a strong conflict between the altered reality shown in your work and what we, as viewers, know must be true. What is it about this contrast that interests you as an artist?

AC: I guess it’s that balance of familiarity, without spilling out the intentions too much. It’s about a sense of craftsmanship of something that could be a lot of different mediums. Or perhaps it’s a random picture of a sculpture.

GJ: Lastly, what’s coming up for you over the next year, photographically or otherwise?

AC: I’m releasing my long awaited book, Hester, with Mörel Books in London. There will be a few book signings. I also have a few group shows in Europe, and finally a solo show in Berlin, Germany in January 2013.


from the series Wrong
© Asger Carlsen

An earlier version of this interview, The Surrealic World of Asger Carlsen, co-written by Meghan Maloney, was published on In the In-Between. To see more work from Asger, visit his website.

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