I stumbled upon Elin Høyland's photography at Künstlerhaus Bethanien during a very busy opening night just about a month ago. It was the last room I went into and the only artist of the show I didn’t manage to speak with. She was displaying a series of intimate photos she took of two siblings, Harald and Mathias Ramen. They worked and lived together their entire lives in their home on the Norwegian country side. She would visit them sporadically throughout many years – from 2001 onwards – until a book with the photo series was finally published in 2011.
The Art Of Storytelling With A Camera
During our long skype interview (Berlin-Oslo), she tells me about what inspired this project. Høyland was originally interested in photographing two people that had a special connection to each other, where they could not exist without the other; an exclusive one-of-a-kind bond. As an anthropologist, she mentions her interest in the concept of sameness and the love between two people.
Granted, this kind of relationship between two brothers is not exactly what comes to mind when speaking about a strong connection – our hungry hearts tend to crave for romance stories. Despite this, when stopping to consider the love between siblings, the tenderness about family company and the desire to live together long after their parent’s passing does hold a certain poetic resonance, especially after looking at these photographs.
Elin tells me that the process of photographing the two brothers was long and enriching; she had to build a relationship based on trust and respect. An important part of her priorities is to know that it is not only about taking, but also about giving when it comes to entering the lives of others. She slowly learned how to work with them, trying to fulfill her esthetic wishes without being invasive. "When you work with people, you have to give as much as you take, it is a collaboration. I was very fortunate that they let me enter their private home and interact with their daily reality."
A particular challenge came about with the issue of nudity. She asks me: "Have you been to Scandinavia? Do you know what our relationship with nudity is?" I haven’t been there yet, but I do know that they enjoy it while bathing in hot waters. "Yes," she said,"But like most things, it is a generation gap. For them it wasn't normal to be naked in public. I was almost sure that when I asked they were going to say no. I was nervous about asking, but I gathered the strength and directed the question to them. Surprisingly, they said yes. After some time, I heard from other people in town that no one had ever seen them naked and that I had performed a miracle."
During our talk, I mention to her the references her work led me to: Diane Arbus, for one, and the movie "Amour" by Michael Haneke. The common thread to the well known photographer was that she usually also photographed two people. Elin adds, "Yes, I also share with her the desire to photograph people who are nobody, who are not known to society – outcasts – to bring them into light and let them shine. I’m not interested in people that are always in the media, that everyone sees. I’m interested in that other people, the hidden people, the ones that go unnoticed to society."
In regards to the movie "Amour," it narrates the end of a love story, the physical wearing out of a life long couple who forces the husband to take care his very ill and very dear wife. The connecting point to that narrative is that Elin is fascinated "by growing old; by a lived life. I want to see different layers of time and experience in a person."
Elin has many stories to tell, she lived in Berlin during the '80s and in Nicaragua in the '90s. That trip to South America left a significant trace: it is when she decided to become a photographer. Right there, in that land where she saw so much going on, so many stimuli that she wanted to capture, she realized that writing was not the only medium to take it all in. After that, when she had already gained her degree as an anthropologist, she decided to study Photography. Today she works full time with various projects, one of them includes photographing people in the privacy of their homes.
Upon the end of our talk, I asked Elin Høyland to please define her work with three words. She said "honesty," "intimacy" and then a mixture of "natural" and "back to basic." When putting the three concepts together and observing her photographs, the result is very accurate: we experience the intimacy in the life of others with honesty and transparency. While looking at her photography, we are reminded of the most natural, central and basic of feelings: love.
Article by Sofia Martinelli