Swedish photographers Inka and Niclas Lindergård have long been interested in the way people interact with nature. The pair’s work is an avid and at times absurdist reflection of human nature, our environments, and the way the two are interwoven.
It all started in 2008. Photography duo Inka and Niclas Lindergård wanted to pursue their shared interest in people’s mass desire to reconnect with ‘raw’ and ‘untouched’ nature. They began by studying and photographing various groups of tourists visiting famous landscapes around the world. The resulting series, ‘Watching Humans Watching’, is an exploration of the expectations humans have of certain landscapes.
“Many of the tourists in the photographs are truly mesmerized by the nature they are in, but many of them also seem to be waiting for some kind of magic to happen, like they are expecting triple rainbows, unicorns and dinosaurs,” Inka and Niclas explain.
All of the pair’s work since then has in some way dealt with people’s obsession with ‘the great outdoors’ and what they can gain from it. From the deconstructed sunsets of ‘Saga I’ to the hyper realistic scenes in 4K ULTRA HD, their practice also revolves around the consumption of landscapes through lenses and screens. “Our notion of landscape is formed by photography. We consume so much landscape through photos that it’s almost hard to know if we have actually experienced a place in person or if we just have seen it over and over again in pictures. The same photographs get photographed and shared day in and day out,” says Inka and Niclas.
“We like to take on and destabilise those repetitive motifs that cameras and screens seem drawn to, like sunsets, flowers, panoramas, palm trees or night skies. Doing works where the ordinary rules are unhinged and the idealisation of nature has gone into a spin, our aim is to create enticing photographs that at the same time point towards the desires in our (photographic) culture, and also a bit towards the absurdity of it all.”
We recently spoke to Inka and Niclas about what fascinates them so much about the natural world, and why and how they’ve chosen to capture it the way they do.
“Our notion of landscape is formed by photography.”
What does ‘SAGA’ mean? How did that collection of images develop?
It’s all about the representation of nature on different levels. We have always been fascinated with the mystique we feel surrounding the view on nature and where it originates from. So over the years we have been studying and drawing inspiration from all kinds of subgroups. Everything from the common t-shirt motifs with the wolf howling at the full moon to the typical sunset over the ocean with a palm tree in the foreground photograph as someone’s computer wallpaper.
The work SAGA was done in a totally different manner, closer to how we work now. While working with WHW we were always very specific about what we were after, but we still had a documentary approach that meant a lot of waiting for people to step in front of our camera with the right coloured jacket in the right kind of light and so on. SAGA really grew from all that time we spent waiting. In SAGA we allowed ourselves to stage and to affect the landscape during the exposure. As a whole, SAGA was more of a process and the outcome was more unclear beforehand.
There’s this motif of sunsets and mirrors in your work, is there any particular reason for that?
The sunset has been a recurring base for many of our works. We have been deconstructing and rearranging the sunset photograph over and over again. That one in ‘SAGA I’ is really key since it’s the one that started it all.
We spent the summer of 2009 in the northernmost parts of Norway. Tourists were travelling there from all over to see the midnight sun, which basically is a long sunset. We became interested in the attracting force of the sunset and the colours it produces, so we started photographing every other night for a period of two months. At one point we picked up a mirror at a flea market and the next night we brought that along with us and started to isolate colours in the mirror as a way of photographically dissecting the sunset. Later on, we started going around washing scenes with light from our flash, letting the sunset’s magic spill down where it normally can’t reach.
Can you also tell us a bit about what inspired you to shoot the works in your book ‘Becoming Wilderness?
While some of the other series had pretty strict guidelines, the process with Becoming Wilderness was far more fluid and more of an associative search that didn’t have a clear ending. The series took us four years to do and we worked insanely hard to get some of the works done. During one journey to Mexico, we spent a month working every day and came home with one photograph, one of the best ones we have done so far, but still just one.
“We like to take on and destabilise those repetitive motifs that cameras and screens seem drawn to.”
I read that you’re interested in understanding “What is it that drives humans to go out there and collect these images over and over again”, so I wanted to ask you both the same question. What is it that drives you both to seek and create these images?
Going out and getting new really nice work done is one of the best feelings. So the simplest, most romantic reason for going out in the wild is that we really love photography and we love spending time in nature camping around. But also, this is what we do and how we make a living.
Sounds trivial to say it, but working with photography we don’t have any other choice than to place ourselves in the scenery we want to portray. But the travels also have to do with the chance to work undisturbed. It’s very much about isolation and we usually try to disconnect from daily life. Our process is time-consuming, there are so many uncontrollable circumstances at play when working outside. Winds blow and rain rains. Sometimes we are out working for months and even if everything goes really well, we only return with a handful of photographs.
I really enjoyed your ‘Family Portraits’ and the way you obscured the traditional concept of marking your presence in the landscape. Can you tell me a little bit about how you shot those images? I imagine it must have been very different being in front of the camera?
To quote ourselves: ”The work is about the present-day ritual of travelling and photographing – photographs as proof to show. It’s about the depiction and consumption of grand scenery and it’s also about the camera and the magic moment of exposure”.
We, the family, wear retroreflective suits. Our intention in bouncing the flash off the suits we wear was to make us anonymous, but us radiating with light like that also points towards some kind of energy. As we continue photographing, we have been looking at the series again, trying to block out any preconceived ideas. We see that the series has become (or was from the beginning) quite mystical, bombastic and maybe also sinister.
We started photographing when our first son was four-months-old, at that time it was just a matter of keeping him warm or at best asleep while shooting. Now the same son is five and usually clicks the camera with the remote and our second son is 18-months-old, so the logistics of it all is another beast. We are currently collecting more of the photographs and plan to continue this work for at least five to ten years more.
“The simplest, most romantic reason for going out in the wild is that we really love photography and we love spending time in nature.”
Could you choose one of your favourite images you’ve created (it can be from any of your works as long as you’re happy to share it) and talk about why you like it/the story behind it?
The one photograph we worked the hardest on was definitely 4K ULTRA HD I. We started trying to colour a splashing wave with our flash back in 2012, but never got the results we wanted. In the summer of 2017, we were on the beaches north of Biarritz and had 4-5 sessions in the water where we started to get close to something good. We booked a trip to the Algarve coast in Portugal and stayed in a surf hostel to surround ourselves with people who know where and when there are good waves. We were there for a week and stood out in the ice-cold water at sunrise and sunset at least ten times.
On the last night we got an exposure that on the little camera screen looked absolutely fantastic. But it turned out that a large drop of saltwater had ended up in the middle of the front lens so the image was blurred. Niclas was really close to smashing the camera on the tile floor but stopped himself at the last second. So we flew home without a picture.
Well, perseverance is the key to success, so in January 2018 Inka found this place in northern Tenerife where the waves crash into the rocks in a good way in several places. So we booked in ten nights and photographed as often as conditions allowed. Niclas sprained his ankle badly one morning in the dark on the slippery rocks and thought it was broken; one wave hit us so that Inka’s phone broke; another wave hit us so that the new expensive medium format camera we just got started to flash like a strobe totally uncontrolled. But in the end, we got it! The best feeling.
Lastly, is there anything you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to mention?
More long-term we are working on a huge commission for a psychiatric hospital in Sweden which is very exciting, installations in 57 rooms to be done by the end of next year. Right now, we have a couple of group shows coming up, but then we have our solo at Dorothée Nilsson Gallery in Berlin that opens on 15/01/2021 that we are working on. During the last year, we have also been developing a new technique where photographs printed on fabric are in one motion hardened and draped into stable forms. In the works, common landscape motifs like sunsets and seascapes lie melted over podiums or hung as if to dry.