Introduction to Valdimar Thorlacius’ photography

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Today I am very pleased to present the work of Valdimar Thorlacius. As always this piece, an introduction to his work, will initiate SnappedAway In Depth Series of posts: first an interview, then an opportunity to showcase one project and finally a selection of one photo picked from the images published during the whole week, which will be later printed on a t-shirt.

Valdimar is an artist with a very clear and directed interest: people. I must admit I rarely get moved by portraiture, possibly because it is so difficult to get it to this level. Or it could be me, I admit. Having seen Valdimar’s work however I instantly knew I wanted to invite him here and write about what he does, to try to understand (a bit) how he possibly does it.

I mean, just look at the image below, so direct and deceptively simple. The eye contact straight away locks you in, then the face of the man who’s been through some things, and then slowly, like ripples on a pond, you can see further away from the eyes, discovering more detail, more layers, more possible chapters to the story. The image comes from the series “Einbúar”, a project about people that live alone in rural Iceland, and yes you can see that without a doubt.

What I like about Valdimar’s approach is his courage to keep things simple – which means facing the difficult challenge of pulling that off, since the simpler it is the bigger the chance of failure, there are no fancy spaces to hide. In the age when we get flooded by project such as “a tintype series about the last two specimens of the sub-Saharan dotted beetle having sex on the only night of the year they meet lit only by moonlight reflected by the photographer’s face” you have to admire the silent strength of these images. But back to our first portrait, please excuse the mini-rant.

As I said, you can tell straight away this is a house of a lone man. The whole series requires careful, slow attention to all the details in the frame if you are to take away anything from the work. The first thing after I digested the look in the man’s eyes and the clean shaven face were his hands – big, strong hands of a person who has worked and still is in his old age, in front of him like a shield. This is the countryside in Iceland after all, for sure it’s no picnic. The hands seem too big for his body, just like the work pretty sure is as well. His clothes also seem too big, he is shrinking slowly with age. But then I noticed the binoculars – the curiosity is still there, or is it anxiousness? And of course they are just next to a radio. And then, finally, a couple of letters on the radio itself, an intrusion of the outside world into this highly private space.

Another lone man, but how different his space and his body language is. Even though the setting should feel more homely with all the warm light, wooden furniture and stitched pictures, something is wrong here, something doesn’t seem right. He seems out of place, his body doesn’t belong even though it’s his own house, it’s awkward, he’s standing with his shoulders skewed, set against the rigid grid of the wallpaper his messy hair and damaged coat make him an alien. The uneasiness is palpable. There are the cookies just in the corner of the frame, the promise of something good just on the horizon. And then you notice another face, tiny by comparison, but it’s there, in the corner of the faded print on the left. Seems to be a passport portrait of a much younger man – a son perhaps? We don’t know, but those details, the uncertainty they create is as sweet as those chocolate filled cookies.

By now we know Valdimar is a master of the environment, illustrating the person by his own space, giving us clues and hints, but leaving things open, a nice balance of description and interpretative freedom. But his work is obviously wider then environmental portraits, even though they are his focus and they will come back later.

Iceland is famous for it’s nature, I’ve never been there but as many of us have seen images of it. A lot of images. But even here Valdimar can push the theme into something more interesting, the clash between the grid of the soccer field and the backdrop of soft mountains is just so juicy. The split seconds that are “oh so valuable” in commercial sport set against the everlasting landscape show us another side of his craft as an artist.

But what is this, the sudden black and white full of tension? I’m not going to spoil you the pleasure of figuring this one out by yourself (please don’t just go to his site straight away), just apply the same careful attention the the scene. I really love how he includes enough for you to play the detective without distracting from the main characters.

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Valdimar seems to have a deep attraction to loners, people living in some alternative way, less visibly or on some sort of a margin. The next series is a very interesting counter balance to the first one, to which I will come back later. “Hjólhýsahverfið Laugarvatni” is a trailer park, and we enter it to see the inhabitants, but how different from the “Einbúar” is it. We only get to see the outside of their theoretically mobile homes, and we then see the owners much tighter, closer, with just a bit of the background behind them.

Surprisingly, we feel more of a direct connection to the people then in the “Einbúar”. This rises some interesting questions about the nature and possibilities of representation. Even though in “Einbúar” we enter the private space of the loners depicted, we seem still on the outside in a way, they are truly alone, they have spend enough time in there to have their true core hidden and we feel that, while here, even though you only see the surface of things and people, the act of opening has happened. How? How is it that we can feel that, from a silent motionless photograph, the human brain gets enough information to know this person is allowing us to peek inside of them? The ability of the artist to explore those subtleties is what Valdimar’s work is all about for me, and was the main reason I wanted to share those images with you.

I want to get to “I – One” series to close this article. I will let you explore slightly different aspects of the work without further commentary though, these images require some silence. I can’t just keep totally quiet and not mention the lovely touch of humour in the sheep image, sorry!

 

 

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If you enjoyed reading this post stay with us for more of Valdimar Thorlacius’s photography. Also you might want to check his website to find out more about his work.

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