Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth’s unique take on post-retirement fairy tale figures.
Right now, Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth are one of our favourite duos working in medium format photography. Taking their beat-up Mamiya camera to out-of-the-way locations (swamps, marshes – anything goes), they stage elaborate pictures of senior citizens decked out in seawood, driftwood and all manner of scavenged flotsam.
The resulting series, Eyes As Big As Plates, is a wry, tender attempt to transform people into gentle mythical figures from local folklore, and it makes for alternatively hilarious and touching moments. We spoke to them after their Recess in Red Hook exhibition in Brooklyn, New York.
You’ve said that the project is a play on Norwegian folklore – what’s so distinctive about Norwegian folk tales?
KR: The project started in Norway, looking at Norwegian folktales, their origins and personifications of nature. As we went round Sandnes interviewing people in their phenomenal native landscape, we did hear that the locals in our area were “very practical and didn’t have time to turn rocks and wonder what’s under”… Comments like these reshaped our quest slightly more towards imagination. Finland and the Finns we found to be even more rationalistic in their relationship with their all-surrounding lakes and woods.
How did you two meet?
R: I was searching around internet for a collaborator for a residency in Norway and typed in: ‘Norway + older people + photographer’. Karoline’s name came up at the top of the search results (she had just written a book about the grandmothers of Norway ). I liked what I saw, emailed her and asked if she would like to work with me in Sandnes. She said yes, and we met first time at the door step of the 20 square foot flat we were to live for the next month and a half. It was lucky we got along as well as we do.
Your subjects all wear oversized, elaborate headpieces – how do those get made?
KR: First comes the plan for the image, the location and the general idea for the character. Then location scouting, gathering materials, arranging and attaching.
How do you find your subjects?
KR: From sitting opposite to them at dumpling houses, indoor gardening societies, senior centers, previous projects, neighbours, relatives, friends…
You travel to bogs, swamps and remote woods for your photos. Why not just set up in a cosy studio?
KR: We seek these locations out on purpose. Sometimes a bog or an arboretum can be challenging but that is what makes it all interesting.
We find these pictures quite surreal but strangely touching – is that something you deliberately set out to do?
KR: Humans are both those things. Humans loaded with nature, and in nature is at least triple the blast. I guess we must have known the formidable elements we were experimenting with, but it all turned out way more charged than we could have imagined.
What was your favourite folk tale as a child?
Folktales get associated with children a lot. But telling tales surely isn’t reserved for children only. Just like modeling isn’t for when you are 17. We once got asked what we thought about working with two clichés; Nature and Old people. The question threw us completely. Old people aren’t any more cliched than pink plastic bits, middle-aged people or fluorescent lights.
Some people online have described the photos as being very funny – did you have a sense of humour in the work?
KR: Absolutely. The making of the work is fun and we are glad it shows.
For more of the series, head to the duo’s official site. http://eyesasbigasplates.wordpress.com/
Words: Zing Tsjeng (Follow Zing on Twitter @misszing)