On a remote island village in Denmark, Jacob Aue Sobol is building a sustainable artists’ commune – and a family. His passion for connecting with people and places has taken him across the world, from remote mountain settlements to sprawling cities. Informed by these experiences, Sobol’s studio relies on the land, the sea, and the people who make it their home. Here, the artist discusses what drives him to photograph, and what compels him to stop.
Unseen Magazine: What first attracted you to imagery, and how has your relationship with images changed over the years?
Jacob Aue Sobol: I wasn’t initially attracted to imagery, but to the process of creating; of using the camera to connect with people and places. I’m the third generation in a family of photographers, so I guess the camera was a natural choice – though I wanted to be a cinematographer at first. I studied at the European Film College in Denmark, but spent more time in the darkroom than filmmaking. I quickly learnt that I felt too far from the subject: how can you experience intimacy with a whole film crew around you?
To what extent does your environment influence you, as well as your practice more generally?
I tend to isolate myself a lot. I’ve made most of my work travelling around the world, and when I came back to my old studio in Copenhagen I’d hardly go outside at all. I took my last pictures in Siberia in March 2017 – so it’s been 2 years without shooting. I’ve had this break from photography before, when I was living as a hunter in Greenland, falling in love and putting my camera away. It feels like life itself becomes so present that I simply can’t stay behind a camera. I have to take part in it.
Now my work takes place in an isolated village on an island in Denmark where I live with my team and wife-to-be. In June, Sara gave birth to our first daughter, Carmen. I need to be close to nature, to the sea and the fields. This is where I truly feel alive.
What does a typical day on the island look like?
If there’s not too much wind, I go fishing. It’s as intense for me as taking pictures, I’m just using different tools. When I come home with fish, I feel a different sensation – maybe an even greater one – than when I come home with pictures.
Other days, I work with my studio manager and interns. We live together in my grandfather’s old house. He was also a photographer, and we’ve found thousands of his old film rolls. He used his daughters as models, and there’s obviously a story there for another project…My grandfather built a space that he stuffed with canned food because he was scared of a third world war. We’re turning it into an in-house production hall with film scanners, a darkroom and everything else it takes to run an artist’s studio.
What subjects appeal to you most? What do you hope to achieve with photography?
I’m always attracted to love, how two people can decide to share something precious. I think it was my own search for love and family that kept me on fire, taking thousands of pictures every day during winter. Now I’ve found love and I’ve stopped taking pictures. We’ll see what happens, but I have an archive of 400,000 images that’s like a gold mine I can dig into.
With my pictures, I hope people can find a piece of themselves. I hope they see and feel what we have in common instead of looking at our differences.
Images: Peter Toubro & Sara Zanella
Published as part of the featured project:
by Jacob Aue Sobol
Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen, Amsterdam, NL
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