Erik Mowinckel’s photographs are luminous, sentient and distinctive. His use of shadow and light, sense of composition and adroit exploitation of color produces a body of work that feels like genuine appreciation and looks like a dream. There is also often a bit of humor which gives his work an undeniably friendly feel.
The images here are part of his series entitled Sidewalk. Often the images in this series glorify the ordinary sights of city life; things that might be seen, or even ignored, by everyday passersby take on a new life in his rich photographs. The series also masterfully explores different palettes, textures and moods of built environment.
Growing up in Oslo, Norway, Erik began his exploration of photography by walking the streets of the city, capturing moments as they happened and things as they came. An element of that spontaneity is still present in his photographs. In addition to photography, Erik produces drawings as well as music. Below, Erik tells me more about his work and the importance of being present.
You studied at the Oslo School of Photography as well as at the Einar Granum School of Visual Arts. Did you come out with different ideas of how to approach photography?
Going to Oslo School of Photography was an important decision for me, mostly because I got to spend a lot of time doing what it was I wanted to do. This, in turn, led me to produce work that was visibly more devoted and very different from what I had made before going to school, more similar to what I do now. I also learned a lot about the work you do after you have taken pictures; selecting images, writing — making it readable to an audience.
What was it like preparing your first solo show?
I spent more time on the book I made for the exhibition than the exhibition itself. I have always been more attracted to the possibilities you have in making a book using layout and sequencing. An exhibition is more of a physical experience for the audience, which of course also has major potential, though I don’t feel like I made enough use of that potential in my first exhibition.
So how did you get started with your illustrations and music? Did it feel like a natural transition for you?
The process behind each medium is similar in the sense that I never have a plan before I get started and hence don’t know what will come out of it. The surprise of what turns up on the other side, as well as working on a good way of presenting it, is part of the kick I get from doing it.
I started making music when I moved away from home and discovered GarageBand on my MacBook. It was a very rewarding process of learning, and I’m glad I stayed with it.
Drawing has been there all along, except recently I haven’t really been doing it because between drawing, music, and photography I find drawing to give me the most resistance. Photography and music can also be full of frustration, but with these two I can get into a good flow more easily. That said, once I do get into drawing the process becomes very meaningful to me.
Are you planning any new projects within illustration and music?
I released an EP about three weeks ago, so now I have started working on what will hopefully become an album in the future. I’ll hopefully pick up drawing again during the winter when it’s cold out.
You started it all by walking through suburban Oslo. I can see this as being both practical and a really interesting conceptual exploration. On the one hand, the streets are always “available,” filled with things discarded, things put out to see, to take, as well as things that are constantly there. It’s practical in that there’s always something there to photograph. It’s also a way to investigate the concept of familiarity. Is this something you are actively exploring in your work?
That’s very well put. I haven’t said it quite those words, but it’s pretty close to what the pictures could be about. The main reason I take pictures is because I love what it requires of me; it requires me to be present. And the resulting pictures serve as a reminder of that presence. Being able to put together a book or an exhibition is a bonus.
Lovely. What I really enjoy about that is it makes me think of art as a language, beyond medium, in the way that anyone might be able to feel that connection while also being like a record of everyday moments and ubiquitous things. It’s both grandiose and universal.
In your series Sidewalk, this is especially central. It refers to walking as part of your creative process and captures moments that are beautiful and familiar. What was the inspiration for the series?
As I mentioned before there was no plan. I would go for a walk everyday and bring my camera, sometimes eager to find something, other times forgetting I even had the camera with me. This was after a two-year break from photography and it was interesting to see how different the photos turned out compared to the photos I had taken two years prior. There are similarities of course, but something was different without knowing exactly what. It might sound cliche or obvious but the inspiration for each photograph was the subject in that photograph, and putting the photographs into a series is an attempt to create a wider space based on that inspiration.
Tell me about your book in the making.
In making the book, which is titled "Slør" (Veil), I became aware that I was taking a lot of pictures of textiles, it could be curtains, tarpaulin or something that behaved similarly, often covering up something else. I thought it was interesting to combine photography, which in essence is to "show something" with a subject that is associated with something being hidden.
Images courtesy of Erik Mowinckel
interview SARAH CARTER
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