© Trine Søndergaard, from "Strude"

 
 

1. The photographs of your latest project “Strude” were taken on a small Danish west coast island called Fanø. What inspired you for this project? Did you have to make a specific research in terms of traditional customs?

My work with Strude began at a local museum on a small Danish island where women’s folk dresses were exhibited on faceless cloth dummies. The colours were intense and the detail intricate, but it was the mask-like hood that drew my eye. A garment called a ‘strude’, worn by women in the past to protect their faces against the elements and still worn at the annual fête I returned to year after year to make the work.
I have been investigating portraiture in my work for some time: interrogating what constitutes an image and confronting the myth that the portrait can reveal personality - or capture ‘the soul’. In the traditional portrait the subject often meets the gaze of the viewer. In most of the images in Strude this meeting is doubly blocked: by the mask and by the averted face of the sitter.
I’m interested in what lies beyond the direct gaze, in what happens when we can’t look people in the eye. My focus is the introversion and mental space that lies beyond the image. And time or duration in the coexistence of different times in consciousness. In Strude this is reflected in the inclusion of different elements of the past and the present, but also in the duration of the gaze itself - the mechanisms of reading or decoding the image. Especially in a contemporary Western context, where the controlling power of surveillance and scrutiny are highly present in the polemics of burqa debates and mask bans.

 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, from "Strude"

 
 

Here the covered faces and tightly buttoned dresses in Strude are highly resonant. The ‘strude’ clearly delineates what is hidden and raises the question of what is exposed in the image. What is said and unsaid. Just as the codes of the dresses remain an island secret for the uninitiated, I wanted to explore what happens when the meeting between the gaze of the subject and the viewer is deflected and denied.
I wanted to photograph an inner mental state and to create the stillness or quiet within which it occurs. The images are highly concentrated - stripped down: analogue, shot in natural light, with only the subject and myself secluded in a corner of the attic where the women dressed each other. Each sitter was minutely directed in front of the camera to capture the pose and angle of introspection. An experiment in how far the sitter can be turned before she turns her back on us.
Just as the dummies in the museum supported the dresses, the sitters and their masks form the scaffolding for my investigation. They are the generic material for exploring the gap – or bridge – between the trappings of the past and the present, representing a state of mind that transcends period and cultural context.

 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, from "Strude"

 
 

2. Some of the pictures from “Strude” are portraits without actually showing a person. The symbolic decorations become the actual protagonists of the images. The “head” is made of a crown of flowers and stones. We can almost feel the spiritual character of this specific culture. Those images, especially seen in between the other “real” portraits, become very strong, iconic. We feel attracted and pushed back at the same time. Something disturbs us, but in a positive way. What does, in your opinion, make us feel this way?

For me these images are quite abstract – and a bit hard to understand. They seem ritual and religious. I like that and think they add an important layer to the rest more straight-forward images.

3. Have you thought about combining those two types of images from the beginning or was it something that came along during the process?

It was something that developed during the process.
 
 
© Trine Søndergaard, from "Monochrome Portraits"
 
 

4. Both series “Strude” and “Monochrome Portraits” are made of similarly composed images. The background is empty from any object; it is neutral and generic. We are directly faced with the subject without being distracted by other elements. What led you to this kind of composition? How do you usually arrange your set when you’re shooting portraits?

"Monochrome Portraits" are made in my studio. "Strude" is made on location at the place where the women come for getting dressed.
I don’t have a specific way I always work. It depends on the series, what is possible and the expression I seek. But I try to keep it very simple. To keep the focus on the instruction af the sitter – and not so much on the technical aspects.
 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, from "Monochrome Portraits"

 
 

5. In your project “Monochrome Portraits” you’ve chosen a different color for every portrait and applied the same color also to the frame, when you’ve exhibited the series. This kind of operation has created a sort of additional space between spectator and the photographed object. What are, in your opinion, the differences between showing this work in form of a book and in form of an exhibition? How important is the process of exhibiting the work on a wall for you?

It really gives meaning when exhibiting the work – I have put a lot of effort into the colorsetting of the prints and frames – so that they match and gives a more object impression of the work. They become blocks of dark color on the wall. As a spectator you need to engage to be able to see and get something from the image.
 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, Nicolai Howalt, How to Hunt, Hatje Cantz

 
 

6. On the other hand you’ve made (and are in the process of making) various printed publications. Most of the times the photographic book is the “real” work of art for a photographer. In your production you have faced different types of possibilities, from independent publishers to self-published books and lately a major publishing house like Hatje Cantz (How to Hunt). Could you tell us a little bit about your experience with all those different methods of publishing? How do you usually conceive a book and how does the different procedure of publication influence the final result?

Actually there has not been much difference between working with the different publishers big or small. I am very interested in the creation of the book, editing, layout, and all the choices of paper, printing, binding etc. That is why I have every time worked closely with a graphic designer. The publisher hasn’t been much involved in the creative process.
Of course there is a difference in how the book is distributed depending on the publisher – I guess that is the real difference.

 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, Nicolai Howalt, Dying Birds, Hassla Books

 
 

7. The world of photo-books has changed significantly over the last few years with the emerging of numerous independent publishers. Some of them have been quite successful thanks to their high-quality choices and the fact that the publications become collectible items for a reasonable price. Do you think that the photographer has to work in a different way when he collaborates with small, independent companies? Do you think that an important, complex body of work could also be published in form of a small publication, for example a zine?

What decides a book and its format is highly a question of budget. If you don’t have the funding you can’t do the book – at least not in the way you wish for, but you can do great publications with small budgets also. I don’t think you need a different approach to the different publishers – the focus should be on making the best possible book
 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, Nicolai Howalt, from "How to Hunt"

 
 

8. You often work together with Nicolai Howalt. How did this collaboration begin? What are the fundamental requirements for working in tandem?

My collaboration with Nicolai Howalt started around 2000 with the exibition and series N+T. From then on we have worked together- on and off - our individual work, on different series, exhibitions and books.
Our collaboration has been good for us, maybe, because we have been able to use our different abilities and personal qualities in a constructive way. We are also quite related in our point of view and working methods, which I guess is a plus working together.
 
 

© Trine Søndergaard, Nicolai Howalt, from "How to Hunt"

 
 

Interview by Daniel Augschoell and Anya Jasbar