Taking her cue from the Swedish nature and traditional folklore, Agnes Thor uses the romantic landscapes of her native country not just as a backdrop, but as the very subject of her light-drenched, dreamy photographs. In these solitary environments, Thor sees a reflection of herself and the world around her, which through her lens becomes what she calls landscape portraits – images of a world built on memories of childhood stories and old fairytales. Delicately capturing the first rays of sunshine breaking through the trees at dawn, her photographs encapsulate the somnolent essence of Scandinavia’s long summer days. Although Agnes is currently living and working in New York, a long way from the natural backdrop of the Swedish countryside, she continues seeks out the city’s green pockets in her exploration of life, death and utopia. We talked to her about her strong ties to her homeland.
Dazed Digital: How has your growing up in Sweden informed your work?
Agnes Thor: The landscape has definitely been a great inspiration; I was outside a lot growing up, and that is something that I’ve taken in to my work. What is great about Sweden is that there is something called “right of common” – meaning that most forests and land is open for anyone to walk on. I think that gave me a wonderful sense of freedom that I’ve strived to capture. Also the Swedish art of storytelling and folklore plays a large part in my work, I draw a lot of inspiration from old stories and illustrations, and some traces of these stories are visible in my series.
DD: You call your landscape pictures ‘portraits’. What constitutes a portrait to you?
Agnes Thor: Strictly speaking I would call a portrait a photograph consisting of a living thing. But in the context of the series “Aurora Borealis” I see the landscapes as portraits because I shot them aiming to mirror my feelings and myself, and since I have strong emotional ties to many of the environments I feel like they portray me just as much as an actual photograph of me would do.
DD: Perhaps in the wake of Scandinavian crime fiction’s huge international success in recent years, there seems to be an image spreading of these countries that suggests a slightly darker, lonelier and more sinister reality. Does that image correspond with the Scandinavia you know, the one you depict in your landscape portraits?
Agnes Thor: My depiction of Sweden, or Scandinavia, is pretty romanticized, I mostly capture bright days or sceneries, it’s only lately my landscapes have become on the darker side, yet still they’re almost dreamscapes. I think I’ve stayed away from the sinister reality in my work – I tend to work with images that are far away from daily life, but I definitely portray the solitude in my landscapes.
DD: How important is narrative in your work? Do you consciously try to tell stories or are the images to be taken at face value?
Agnes Thor: Narrative is a big part of my work – sometimes it’s very subtle, but I always want the image to communicate a story or an emotion that speaks to the viewer. I often work with my projects over a long period of time, and the experiences that comes with it also forms a narrative that isn’t directly related to the images but adds to their value.
Some of my new, yet unreleased work has a stronger, more clear narrative. I just finished a series that deals with the idea of a utopia, and I’m in the process of working with a project on Life and Death, which is more literal than some of my previous works.
DD: What do you love and hate the most about living and working in New York now?
Agnes Thor: I love being surrounded by such a diversity of people and lives, and I love that there’s constantly something going on, it’s great for work, there’s so many opportunities. But now that spring is coming I long to be close to nature, and even though I have a small garden and trees outside my window I still really dislike being surrounded by houses and asphalt in my daily life.
Agnes Thor is a member of Rekorderlig’s Beautifully Swedish Collective