In an earlier post I talked about a visit to the Norwegian Church in Cardiff to see The Brothers exhibition. I loved the images in the exhibition and noticed in the Diffusion 2013 programme that the photographer was giving a free talk and gallery walk.
It was with a little trepidation that I attended, as I can find these events a little pretentious. Fortunately this did not prove to be the case and Elin, although initially seeming shy at the attention, quickly got into her stride and gave a really interesting talk.
Her series The Brothers is a quiet and intimate look a the lives of two elderly Norwegians, Harald and Mathias Ramen. Elin was initially working on a ‘pairs’ project and heard about the two brothers from a friend. She had only planned to take a few images of the two but soon realised that this was a much more compelling project. The ‘pairs’ project was put to one side but elements of this are evident in The Brothers, with multiple paired images.
Elin described how she found it quite difficult to penetrate the brothers lives. They were reclusive and not used to talking to outsiders. However, she was able to gradually establish a rapport with them, although from her description it seemed that there was always a distance between her and her subjects. After some of the images were published in a local paper the brothers achieved local celebrity status, prior to this they had been regarded as rather an odd couple.
For the first few sessions Elin didn’t even take a camera but used the time, usually no more than an hour, just to try and get the brothers to talk and find out about them. She noticed that their lives were simple but very ordered. The brothers spent their time chopping wood, restocking numerous bird tables around their property and bird watching. They didn’t have a television but had a radio each and access to a telephone (for their weekly call to a relative who rang to make sure that all was well).
Although she never really broke into the brothers ‘inner circle’ she did build enough trust to be able to take photographs. The project started in 2001 and was finally finished in 2009. Harald, the younger brother passed away in 2004, and Elin visited to take pictures of the last brother until he also died in 2007. She returned to the house following their deaths with the last time being in 2009, when she took some images from outside the home. Over the years Elin showed the brothers many of the images that she had taken and talked through her work with them. She didn’t realise just how successful the project was to become and, as the book wasn’t published until 2011, the brothers never realised just how widespread their fame would be.
The talk itself lasted around thirty minutes and afterwards Elin stayed around to talk to people individually and to sign copies of her book. I even convinced her to let me get a picture of us both standing by the most famous image from the series. In my earlier post about the Church I complained that the gallery space didn’t do the images justice. The atmosphere for the talk was completely different. The small space really worked to create an intimate feeling to the talk. Questions could be asked at normal speaking voice and it was easy to hear everything being said. As Elin talked about different images it was very easy to move around the gallery to see what she was talking about.
One thing that I am almost surprised about is that photographers have to pay to get their work published. The Brothers finally made it into print in 2011 and is published by Dewi Lewis Publishing. Elin had to approach the publishers and pay a substantial amount (she wouldn’t say but hinted it was well over £10,000) to get the printing presses rolling. In order to get the money together she had to seek a grant from the Norwegian Photographer’s Fund. Is this really the way that publishing should work? Publishers have plenty of experience in what images sell and so should be prepared to risk their money to support the best photographers.
The event was organised as part of Cardiff’s brilliant Diffusion 2013 Photography festival. The festival runs for the month of May and so there is still time to go along to the multitude of exhibitions and events being run across the city. If you are in the Cardiff area then you should definitely make time to visit The Brothers exhibition.
Update: An image of my grim face made it to the official Diffusion page about the talk!