PROFILE | Edith Bergfors
Edith Bergfors’ work often consists of formal portrait photography. However, within these self-imposed constraints, she is capable of evoking intense intimacy without overbearing sentimentality.
At the Affordable Art Fair, between the 7th and 10th of March, Jotta will be exhibiting work by Edith Bergfors in our emerging artists' showcase, entitled: "An Undelivered Postcard From The Edge Of The World". In anticipation, we talk with her about finding catharsis in the creative process, discovering her father's ties to the secret society of Freemasons, and her fondness for the tension that is inherent in a formal sitting.
What lead you to undertake the project 'My Father's Brothers'?
It was quite a complex series of events. My parents moved from Denmark back to Finland in the autumn of 2011, and shortly thereafter my mother passed away. My father had kept his affiliation to the Freemasons quiet until then, but now with him living in the same country as his lodge it was easier to regularly attend the meetings. My interest rose from his coping with the situation, and how these meetings affected his grieving. With further research, I grew more interested in the Masonic pledge of Brotherhood, and how this network provides a sense of support within itself. I wanted to document these people who considered themselves brothers to my father, and thus exploring an identity of my own father that I had not previously been exposed to.
Can you explain the process you used to take these photographs, I believe these images were shot and lit in an unusual way? What was the concept behind this idea?
The photographs were taken in a room within the Freemasons Hall in Helsinki, which I had been able to block all light from. Using a 5x4 camera and a specially constructed torch, the film was exposed for 10 seconds as the subjects sat still in a chair. I wanted to further express this notion of the secret brothers, the men who had been in the dark from me for all these years. I also didn’t want to lay too much emphasis on the structures of the buildings, or the symbolism or their rituals, as these were not particularly of interest to me.
Freemasonry is understood by many to be a secretive, mysterious organisation. How did those you contacted about involvement respond to the project? How did those who agreed to participate act during the sitting?
Many Freemasons will tell you that it is not a fully secretive organisation. People may choose to keep their involvement private, which tends to be respected, but many are open about their participation. I believe it is mainly the elements of structure and ritual that are guarded from the public. The participants of this series were all enthusiastic about being involved. The sitting itself was relatively peculiar due to the darkness and required stillness, but each person seemed enthused to be part of it.
In 'My Father's Brothers' and other projects, such as 'Descries' and 'Boyhood', you have employed traditional, formal modes of portrait photography. Why do you work within these conventions?
What interests me most about a formal sitting is how people respond to you and the camera. There tends to be an inherent tension, especially when using large format cameras that force you to compose the image intricately, and for the sitter to not move once it has been set and focused. Also, I really enjoy this idea of placing value on a subject, which arguably is the case in any photograph, but it becomes accentuated in a formal process.
In your series 'Finland', you are again reacting to events within your family through photography. The personal motives behind your work suggest that photography may be a cathartic process for you, is this the case?
The Finland images function more as a diary style series that spans several years, and I add to it each time I am there. The photographic process is definitely cathartic for me. By turning personal and emotional subjects into work, it forces you to deal with them and rationalise them in a way that you may not have considered otherwise, as well as giving them a newfound productive purpose.
Despite the intimate subject matter within your 'Finland' series, your subjects seem almost unaware of your presence, creating a feeling of distance or detachment. Could this be attributed to techniques you have developed as a photographer?
My subjects in the Finland series are my relatives, so there was already that familiarity. Over years of being photographed they have become immune to it.
In Finland I use an old twin-lens box camera, which you look down into instead of holding the camera up to your face, avoiding that eye contact that happens in an SLR. This tends to change the subjects reaction, as they don’t know when you’re taking a photo or just looking playing with your camera. Over years of carrying it around, people stop posing so much. The images within the series that are posed were harder to construct for the very same reasons.
You also work as a Fashion photographer. Do you feel your personal and commercial practices influence each other?
Definitely. The basic ideas all stem from similar places, but different prerequisites and outputs tend to shape the outcomes.
What are you currently working on?
I’m planning a couple music videos, which will be a first for me.