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Mårten Lange

A Swedish photographer captures the beautiful simplicity of nature's own language

In his book ‘Another Language’, Swedish-born photographer Mårten Lange proposes an alternative, twofold definition of the term ‘language’: on the one hand, indicating the inexplicable language of photography, while on the other hand referring to the ecosystem's complex, natural language. Not dissimilar to a scientist, Lange systematically captures isolated moments and creatures of the natural world, revealing intricate patterns and textures, recurring shapes and forms and the beautiful simplicity present everywhere in the environment around us. At the back of his textured, cloth-bound book is a printed excerpt from Alexander von Humboldt’s ‘Kosmos’, a text in which the 19th-century naturalist suggested an underlying harmony and spirituality of the natural world. That notion resonates strongly throughout Lange’s intricate, balanced images.

Originally from Mölndal, a small Swedish town on the outskirts of Gothenburg, Lange moved to London to pursue a Master of Fine Arts and has since stayed in the city on an on-off basis. ‘Another Language’ is his fifth book (he self-published the first four) and his photographs have already made the rounds at international galleries: in the past year alone, he exhibited at Claire De Rouen in London, Hypermarkt in Arles, Project B in Milan and most recently at the Ampersand Gallery in Portland. Next month, ‘Another Language’ will go on show at the Robert Morat gallery in Berlin (opening May 26), and will also form part of the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam in September. 

What was the idea behind Another Language? How did you choose your subjects?
The work grew organically during two years. At first, I didn't quite know what I was looking for, but soon some patterns emerged. The land, animals, nature – the matter the world is built from. At the time I was travelling a lot. Nature is always present, my subjects were always there. I had a vision of a sort of atlas or visual lexicon of the natural world. I made lists of the potential components of this vision and then proceeded to collect these images.

People are visually dominant.I find it very hard to photograph people in a meaningful way.

Is there any particular reason why people rarely feature in your photography?
I find it very hard to photograph people in a meaningful way. People are visually dominant. If there is a person in an image, the image becomes the start of a story about what this person does, or where she or he comes from. This is of course not a bad thing, but it's just that those stories haven't fit with my work yet.

I want to share my fascination with the natural world, the joy of discovery and my way of seeing. People often think that nature is something that exists separately from human society. It's a virtual space, seen on TV and admired from a distance. But people are interacting with nature every day. It's just a matter of paying attention.

People often think that nature is something that exists separately from human society. It's a virtual space, seen on TV and admired from a distance.

To what extent was science as influence?
Science, and the aesthetics of science in particular, was a huge influence. The lists I just mentioned serve as a good example. Much like a scientist on an expedition in an unknown place, I'd collect all these photographs, like specimens. And then from these specimens build a world, or a description of a world.

In the excerpt from ‘Kosmos’ at the back of your book, Alexander Humboldt talks about the “other laws of a more mysterious nature” which “rule the higher spheres of the organic world”. What was it that resonated about this text?

I think it's a very beautiful way of describing the limits of what we can learn about the world through science. I interpret "higher spheres" to mean the human mind. Even though everything could potentially be described and explained down to a subatomic level, we humans have a tendency to imbue our lives with a certain element of poetry. The feeling that there are always new things to discover.

You’ve said before that in all your work that what you’re trying to do is arrange phenomena in a way that proves that some kind of hypothesis is true. What hypothesis are you attempting to prove with Another Language?

I think I'll leave that to the audience. But if someone finds pleasure in seeing the interconnectedness of things and the way objects reflect each other, I'd be very happy.