There are a lot of great photographers working today but Asger Carlsen is one of the very few who’s pictures are truly a revelation for me. Charming and disgusting, magical and frightening. Thank you Mr. Carlsen.
We met a few years ago when we shared a commercial agent. Once we became acquainted we seemed to cross paths often. At the agent’s office he’d quietly approach me, with a shy but mischievous smile, inviting me to see some new photographs that he’d just finished. The work would inevitably be bizarre, but presented in a quiet and dignified way. I’d never seen anything quite like this before.
As we both live in Chinatown we began to see each other there as well, and were soon meeting on Hester Street to go for runs across the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. During our run we’d often talk about art, the photo business and dating. The following interview though was done while sitting down, at the Oro Café in our neighborhood, on the occasion of the release of his second book, Hester.
How did you move from what was, at that time, your traditional shooting style to starting the “Wrong” and “Hester” collections? To be clear, I don’t want to know how you actually make the work, I just want to know more about how they came together as series.
I’ve been known in the past for overworking my images in Photoshop. I keep on searching for something, and looking and looking. I really had extreme patience when it came to editing and post-production. The actual shooting is such a small part in the process of the finished product with this work.
Were there shoots where you’d been shooting something conventionally and then you started playing with the images afterward to see what would happen. How did you move into what became “Wrong”?
It was almost like a copy and paste kind of thing with the stamp tool. There were some eyes that I moved up and it became like this weird face, and that’s how it started.
I was confused about it for a long time. I did these images and I was like “This is disgusting. What the fuck is this?”
I did the images and I didn’t really like them because it didn’t seem very current with my style at that time. It was quite different. I didn’t feel right away that I’d even consider this a photograph. It’s not a photograph in the sense that I go out and set up my light like some Master of Photography who is like, “That’s the image!”
Right (laughs) – in the sense that it’s not made in the camera.
It didn’t feel like a photograph. And I was pretty sure that it was not a good idea to show this to my agent or someone like that because it was so different. This was almost destructive to what I’d been doing prior to that.
Once you started making the “Wrong” work and collected it in into a book it seemed to change the way you thought of yourself as a shooter and how you perceived your connection to photography.
It changed everything. Even my personality was altered (laughs).
A little bit, it really became part of my way of thinking because I was thinking about it all the time. Not that I became insane, but I was trying to be something and all the sudden I am going the complete opposite direction.
I was initially focused on being a commercial photographer and then this new work became my full focus. I didn’t become insane but I was just influenced by it.
When you do this sort of work you have to be open to outside things that are happening.
Give me an example.
I don’t want to get into deep water here…this might sound gross. One time I went to the hospital because I had like this thing in my head, and I had it removed.
Like a cyst or something?
Yes, something like that. There was nothing dangerous about it, but shit like this happens as you get older. I was photographing it, and talking to the doctors like, “Whoa, this was on my head”.
But the funny thing is, I’m looking at it, and it has this very certain structure and pieces of hair coming of it. It was really gross. Not long after though, I’m making an image that was like this plastic shape merged with this skin and hair and I realize that this image completely came out of that experience. It wasn’t something where I was thinking about this experience and saying, “Oh I want to make an image like that” but most of it comes out of that place.
I love that the photographs are in black-and-white, it takes them out of our time. I can’t tell if you’re working with existing photographs, and changing them, or whether you’re making photographs and combining them.
I can tell you I decided to not be a photographer going crazy looking around for subjects. I wanted to work 100% creatively all day in my studio. Does that make sense?
I just wanted to work with the images, I’m a control freak. I don’t want to be too much a part of the world so it’s perfect for me to stay in my studio.