01. June 2017

A year in the Faroe Islands

We are surrounded by images, and every single one tells a story.

For the 2017 Summer Exhibition the Nordic House has collected a host of photographs taken in the Faroe Islands over the course of a year, between Flag Day 2016 and Flag Day 2017. The show lets each picture tell its own story alongside one great collective narrative.

Anyone wanting to tell their own story or narrate our shared present is invited to take part. What happens in the Faroe Islands over the course of a year? What do we do? What gives us joy and what do we fear? Nature and Culture. Children and animals. The everyday and the special occasions. Politics and faith. Village life, city life and life at sea. Family life and work life. Weather and wind. And all the things we cannot put into words. 

The oldest photography we know of was taken by Frenchman Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. It came into existence on a pewter plate coated in light sensitive Syrian asphalt, and was processed with white petroleum and oil of lavender. The photo captured the view from his window. The eight-hour exposure meant that the sun travelled during the process, lighting buildings on both sides of the image. It is an image of shimmering and enigmatic beauty, part historical document, part scientific breakthrough. It contained and contains endless possibilities.

Photography offers unique opportunities to create beauty, to generate narratives, and indicate approaches to understanding both past and present. Photographs can make the invisible, the things we do not notice or expect to see, visible and tangible. They can visibilize, communicate, highlight, inform and make the subject more concrete. However, photographs can also manipulate. They can bring us closer to the truth, but also move us away from reality, alienate. They can describe reality, but also create abstractions of reality, interpret and limit it. This is all part of a highly complex interplay between photography, reality and art.

Ever since the first photograph came into being, the relationship between photography, reality and art has been fraught. The use of photography in commercial, scientific and industrial contexts has placed it nearly in opposition to art, and photographs are perceived, as opposed to other artistic expressions, as sober reproductions of reality, as true. Even when they are blurred or distorted, they are viewed as little pieces of reality, in contrast with the written word, drawings, paintings or sculptures, which are considered interpretations. Photographs are evidence, instruments of identification, surveillance and control, and objective signs that something exists or has existed. They are not art-like and their relationship with reality is considered more innocent than that of art.

Though photographs may well have a different relation to reality than the written word, drawings, paintings or sculptures, they are, of course, not innocent. There are many different ways of interpreting photographs, and our personal perception of the world and aesthetics, along with nearly everything that makes up us humans, are part of the image. Photographs are, just like all other visual expressions, a result of conscious and unconscious decisions regarding composition, lighting, motif, angle and, as all other images, they have a visual language, which can be everything from idyllizing and glorifying to mocking and degrading.

And photographs just might be even less innocent than this.

American author Susan Sontag has written about how photographs have altered the way we perceive the world. They have changed how we view reality and shifted our perception of the truth. They have enlarged our concepts of what is worth looking at and what we are entitled to look at, and thereby restructured our entire ethical system. They have even reformed our relationship with each other, our surroundings and ourselves, redefined our emotions, shifted our notion of ownership and power, and changed the way we acquire knowledge about the past and present.

The recent past and near present are the subjects of this exhibition, which describes and documents, interprets and distorts a year that passed in the Faroe Islands. Regardless of whether we are looking at a landscape, portrait, press or family photo we are given a host of narratives, but we are also part of big exciting and endlessly complex relationship between photography, art and reality. A relationship that not only influences the way we view our surroundings, but also alters who we are. At least a little.


Inger Smærup Sørensen


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