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Nov 3, 2015

A CONVERSATION WITH ASGER CARLSEN

Danish photographer and digital distortion master ASGER CARLSEN used to be a crime scene photographer for a newspaper. Odd career path? Not so much. Like most people’s reaction the first time they encounter Carlsen’s work, I froze there, whispering “Holy shit, what is this?!”. I was hooked. Weeks later, I emailed his name to my editor Bianca as I was writing these questions, who answered “WTF, love it!”. I guess everyone’s different, or she just has a freaky side I wasn’t (fully) aware of. Asger and I chatted over the phone. 

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THE FINE PRINT: Your images look so surreal, like that moment where the distortion happens was right in front of your lens. I, myself have never seen anything quite like it. What inspired you to push your photography in this vein of deconstruction?

ASGER CARLSEN: It started because I originally I worked as a commercial photographer, and I got bored because of the lack of satisfaction of doing that kind of photography. I was always trying to get more out of it, I was trying to edit it, and make it into something else.

Photography happens to be my skill, it’s a notion you have. I think the basic rule of photography is research and travelling. The first image I distorted was by accident.

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TFP: How would you say your Danish origins and your new home in NYC’s Chinatown affect your work?

AC: I grew up in Europe, and as you may know, culturally it’s a bit different. I get it’s a bit of a cliche to say NYC is a hard place to work and live, as it’s a whole different level compared to a more calmed environment. I can’t say if it specifically inspires me. That being said, there is a lot of artists here. I guess traveling also helps; change and reinvent yourself.

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TFP: What fascinates you about the different shapes or parts, say muscles and bones structures, of the human body?

AC: I don’t know if it’s an interest in the human body itself, at least the beginning it was.

A lot of different images are put together so they look like they are one piece, somewhat unnatural. The human body has a certain attraction to me because I was interested in making something that is timeless, relevant to no specific time or fashion, and that’s when nudity came into place, they have no clothing because I don’t want them to relate to any body or any particular fashion.

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TFP: Do you have preferred positions for your model to take?

AC: Basic poses. Some people are more flexible than others or have more interesting body parts, more muscles or fat. They all have a category they can fit into, if I want this shape I know I have this model, if I want more texture I can use someone with more body fat.

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TFP: As previously noted by many, the sci-fi references in your work Wrong are overbearing. Which makes me think that your subjects could come from another dimension. Did you ever analyze them as such?

AC: Sci-Fi is definitely inspiring. I think a lot of them don’t have many references, they come from an interconnection of things or my imagination, and so does Sci-Fi because it doesn’t have an origin, or a direct reference. It’s at the limit of reality and the unreal.

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TFP: Being a child of the 90’s, my understanding of black and white photography is, to my regret, limited. I appreciate it without being able to get all the technicalities. Could you extrapolate on what draws you towards it over coloured images?

AC: If you do a lot of post-production, it’s easier and more subtle, especially if you do something that is dramatic.

References to history of photography are often associated to black and white photography, which is associated to real events. Given my previous work, they are all part of my background too.

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TFP: Other than face and body digital manipulation, do you have preferred materials you like working with in order to attain your desired result?

AC: I went around Chinatown and picked all kinds of things to add to the images. I believe any image can be interesting, it’s just a matter of how you work with it.

I started photographing my floor, I liked the texture. Eventually, you stop seeing faces or shapes, and that started a whole new project, which I used as an starting element.

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TFP: Considering the magic happens in post-production in your studio, what keeps you going sane in these long hours of creative isolation?

AC: I have to deal with constant struggle and discipline. It’s very hard for anyone to spend that much time alone, but also it’s also a mindset, you just stay there, you gotta get somewhere.

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TFP: Last but not least, what’s coming up for you this year? A new book I’ll have to get my hands on?

AC: A long collaboration with Roger Ballen, who is based in South Africa; we’ve been working together for a couple of years, exchanging images. I also have a book coming up with Moral Books in London and a presentation with the German gallery I’m associated with.

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