Ingrid Fischer Jonge is a photohistorian from Copenhagen University and former director of Museet for Fotokunst in Odense, Denmark.
(1) Museet for Fotokunst was closed down in 2013. The collection went to the newly established institution Brandts â€“ Museum of Art and Visual Culture.
(2) Tendencies â€“ New Danish Photography was curated by Mette Sandby and Tina Schwartz for Fotografisk Galleri. Kunstforening Gammel Strandâ€™s exhibition, Out of the Eye â€“ the photographic image of the 90s, was curated by Helle Behrndt and Ingrid Fischer Jonge.
(3) Lars Schwander, â€œYoung Danish photographer â€˜98â€, in exhib. cat. Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen 1997.
(4) The exhibitions in 2002 and 2003 were not accompanied by a catalogue.
(Cover) Adam Jeppesen, BO. Uyuni, 2015
(1-4) Photographic Center 20 years - An anniversary exhibition, 2016, Fotografisk Center (installation views)
(5-9) Young Danish Photography, 2013-2015, Fotografisk Center (installation views)
Young Danish Photography â€“ almost 20 years of an exhibition series
Fotografisk Center is a living product of the nineties, the decade of optimism, when there was scope to realize ideas and visions that we can only dream about today.
The centreâ€™s exhibition series Young Danish Photography, launched in the winter of 1997, has also long since manifested itself as a sustainable concept and has become an important platform for untried ideas. This is where the public has been able to encounter new idioms over the years and gain insight into what interested the young generation of photo artists. And this is where the young talents have paced themselves in the encounter with the public.
An exhibition series like Young Danish Photography has as its necessary premise that one has a general knowledge of contemporary photography â€“ that is the background against which the exhibitions are meant to be seen. And that is why the exhibition concept would not have been very relevant in the 1980s, and not at all earlier, since at that time the medium itself, photography as such, represented the young and the new, irrespective of whether the individual photograph had been produced several years before by an older photographer. In this country, just exhibiting photography was ground-breaking.
But when Fotografisk Center launched its first exhibition of Young Danish Photography in 1997, contemporary photography had become a well known phenomenon. It had been helped on its way by the establishment in 1987 of the museum of photographic art, Museet for Fotokunst in Odense, and a growing number of photo exhibitions in all conceivable contexts (1). In 1992 a large group of young photo artists had manifested themselves at two exhibitions shown respectively at Fotografisk Galleri and Kunstforeningen Gammel Strand. The exhibitions were called Tendencies â€“ New Danish Photography and Out of the Eye â€“ the photographic image of the 90s (2). There the public saw a wide spectrum of all the new preoccupations of the younger generation.
A photographic pluralism had seen the light of day. For this was photography that refused to be pigeonholed. No one could doubt that this was a challenge to the modernist tradition of the earlier generation. Staged photography, the appropriated image, conceptual photography were just some of the many modes of expression and strategies from which one could choose, just as one could quote freely from all conceivable styles and genres. There were no boundaries â€“ postmodern thinking had made its impact.
When the first version of Young Danish Photography was shown, there were surprisingly enough none of the names from the two exhibitions in 1992. It had turned out that in just five years new talents were already on the way. It was the then director of Fotografisk Center, Lars Schwander, who alone selected the exhibiting photographers and the works that were to be shown. In the preface to the first catalogue Lars Schwander wrote that the primary aim of the exhibitions was not â€œto pinpoint new tendencies â€“ although these will probably appear all the same â€“ but just as much to create a qualitative forum for young photographers. An intersection that focuses on not-quite-established photographyâ€ (3).
In other words it was not important for Lars Schwander to be the first with the new. It was more important to establish an exhibition series that became a qualifying laboratory for the young talents. And there can be no doubt that Lars Schwander at the same time saw a potential for giving the young talent a career boost. Several photographers made their debut at these exhibitions, which in their own way were comparable to an adjudicated exhibition.
But Lars Schwander also had another aim with these exhibitions. In the same preface he stressed that with the artists selected for this first exhibition a focus was turned on the educational courses in art photography, and that this was done in the hope that there would â€œin future be a focus on the institutional framework for a true degree course in art photography in Denmarkâ€.
No such course exists yet. For example no one has succeeded in establishing an independent chair of photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen or at other academies in the country. For several years it was Per Bak Jensen who, as an associate professor in charge of the Royal Academyâ€™s photo laboratory, created an inspiring milieu for students interested in photography from the various schools of the Academy. And Morten Boâ€™s photographic school Fatamorgana has had and still has great importance for many young people who are given the opportunity there to test the viability of their talent. If more is wanted, though, they have to go abroad â€“ to Gothenburg, Glasgow or Amsterdam, for example.
Taking your degree course abroad means at the same time that you do not have a network when you come back home. That has to be established first, and in that respect participation in one of the many Young Danish Photography exhibitions has often played an important role as the young peopleâ€™s window to the world.
The exhibition series was implemented at Fotografisk Center with economic support from the Ministry of Culture. The plan was for a three-year project consisting of both exhibition and catalogue. When the ministerial grant ran out, the project stopped for a couple of years, but it was resumed in 2002, not least as a result of the strong urging of the young photo artists, who lacked a serious exhibition venue (4).
Over the years something like 70 young photo artists have exhibited. Although the individual exhibitions have never been arranged thematically, there has always been a requirement that each participant must submit an original, independent statement. This has been the strength of the exhibition series throughout the years, and not surprisingly, today too one finds many now internationally recognized photo artists among the 70 exhibitors.
When Lars Schwander retired as director of Fotografisk Center in 2011 the new leadership decided to continue with the exhibition series. The present director, Kristine Kern, has chosen to expand the concept to include film and installation practices, because, as she puts it, Fotografisk Center today understands and works with photography in an extended sense. At the same time the feature has been introduced that the exhibitions are organized in collaboration with a guest curator.
It has of course been a difficult task to arrive at who should participate in this anniversary exhibition. We have chosen to range across the many years and to single out some of the artistic statements that position central themes that are characteristic here and now. At the same time these are artists who have all had all or part of their training as photo artists abroad.
The choice fell on Charlotte Haslund-Christensen, Astrid Kruse Jensen, Adam Jeppesen, Gudrun Hasle, Absalon Kirkeby and Albert Elm. It is quite coincidental that there is a gender balance, just as it is that four of them have a first name that begins with the letter â€˜Aâ€™! However, here the coincidences stop, for these are six artists who all have a clear vision for their artistic practice and who have all left their distinctive imprint on contemporary photography, not least the older ones, but the younger ones are also well on their way.
With the choice of these artists we also range wide in types of photographic expression â€“ among many different artistic practices where it is no longer so much about trying out new ways of making images as it was in the 1990s, but about seeking out various issues and deploying the visual approaches that best deal with them. It is also characteristic that today we experience the various works as â€˜openâ€™ to the interpretation at which each viewer may arrive.
In the same way, the performative element plays a major role today. This was not such a concern in the past, but not least Absalon Kirkeby and Albert Elm are both highly aware of how their works are to be presented to the viewer. How do viewer and work interact in the space? How is the hanging to act on the viewer? How large or how small should the pictures be in relation to the human body? How is the viewer to move around in the space?
Throughout the years Young Danish Photography has had its finger on the pulse. And it still has, just as it has helped to ensure over the years that young Danish photo art has become visible and has been taken seriously. This too it still does. With Fotografisk Centerâ€™s talent for renewal, there will still be a need for this exhibition series, and it is still the countryâ€™s only exhibition platform for not-yet-established photography.