I’ve been an admirer of Gianni Galassi’s photography for quite some time. His cool, stark abstracts drawn largely from Italian architecture manage to combine precision and emotion in a way this kind of photography rarely does. I was ever more impressed after seeing his exhibition of large scale prints, Elogio Della Luce, in Venice a few years ago.
He has produced a series of books, mainly I think self-published through Blurb, and recently announced a new one which was a bit of a departure from his usual work. “Norway Texas” is a collection of photography of vernacular architecture from coastal towns along the Norwegian coast, from Bergen to the Russian border. The title draws not only attention to the parallels of the depicted scenes with the constructed landscape of the Mid West and Great Plains of the USA, but also explicitly to the cinematic atmospheres created by Wim Wenders.
Gianni Galassi works more frequently in black and white, but this book features exclusively colour photography, which I think is an appropriate choice. The perspectives are generally a touch wider than much of the work published on his web site. These two aspects combine to remind me a little of the more romantic side of New Topographics school, with perhaps a little more warmth and saturation to the colour palette.
The streets and buildings of “Paris, Norway” are devoid of people. Now and then a vehicle or a lit window might hint at habitation, but otherwise it’s an abandoned world. I’m not sure if this is intentional, but to me this gives the collection a slightly unsettling feel.
It would seem that a Norwegian coastal cruise threw Galassi into a rather unfamiliar context, photographically speaking, and he responded by putting together a rich and remarkably coherent body of work which is significantly different to his usual style. Physically, the book design is nicely done within the confines of what Blurb allows, and the medium size softback format gives enough space for the images to breathe while keeping the price at a manageable level.
“Norway Texas” is a subtle work, which keeps pulling me back in. You’re not going to find any fjords, trolls or waterfalls within its pages, but you will find a compelling vision of parallels in frontier communities, expressed through very fine photography.
The last 6 months have been pretty turbulent on the personal front, and although it remains a constant presence, photography, and especially dedicated photography time, has taken a major step backwards. I think I can count the number of shots I’ve taken on a tripod this year on the fingers of both hands… well, maybe I’d have to include a foot or two. So, although I wasn’t treating my trip to Norway in June as photographic in any shape or form, so far it has turned out to be pretty much the main source of new images for me this year.
This is one of those very few photos which I gave more than a few seconds though to. Even though, it is basically a roadside grab shot. And actually this particular photo isn’t going to make it into the final selection I’m working on, so it’s getting a consolation prize of being featured here.
It’s also quite unusual these days for me to make a straightforward landscape photo, which I guess this is, even if it’s pretty dull.
Norway is a country I’m discovering very slowly, through short chunks here and there. But it’s a pretty fabulous place, even if at times so similar to Switzerland that I wonder if I’m being a bit perverse. After all, why travel 2500km to explore a landscape that’s so reminiscent of the one on my doorstep? Well, Norway is at least less expensive than Switzerland (no, really, it is!).
I’m planning to add a Norway gallery pretty soon, and there are 7 rolls of XPan frames to consider too. So I guess it’s going to be a bit of a theme over the coming weeks and months.
Many, many years ago, back when I was working as a glaciologist, I attend a conference of a group of scientists studying the Flichner-Ronne ice shelf, in Antarctica. The conference was doubtless interesting, and indeed a highlight was visiting the brand new Norwegian Glacier museum. But the thing that always stuck in my mind was the magical venue. The conference was organised in a place called Hotel Mundal, a classic Norwegian “belle époque” hideaway lying on the shores of the Fjærland fjord, and owned by the family of conference organiser, Olal Orheim (who was also instrumental in founding the Glacier Museum). The hotel was established in the late 19th century to cater for wealthy tourists visiting the glaciers at the head of the fjord, who until then had no choice but to stay on ships anchored offshore.
Back when I first visited, at least if travelling by land, Hotel Mundal was in the back of beyond. The tunnel that now connects Fjærland to Sogndal did not exist, and although you could drive into the area along a largely deserted road, and through another tunnel, to the north, the only way out was by ferry along the fjord. These days, the road is a bit busier, and the ferry port sits abandoned.
I always dreamt of returning one day, and this year, finally, I did, together with my better half, and her mother, who celebrated her 80th birthday at the hotel.
It turns out we were lucky: Hotel Mundal had been sold several times, and was in decline for some time. Last year did not open at all. But this year it has been rescued, by a wonderful couple, Carrie and Idar, who together with their small but fabulous staff (and unbelievable cook) have undertaken to return Mundal to its prime, an epic labour of love.
Every day it seems new treasures are rescued from the cellars, mementoes of famous visitors such as Kaiser Wilhelm or Walter Mondale, or strange, arcane devices for which the purpose is yet to be revealed.
It’s a wonderful place just to relax and bury yourself in the sense of history and belonging. Clearly it is also painfully photogenic, and I cursed my lack of ability as an interior photographer (or indeed any other kind). But to get a sense of the place, I think it is maybe appropriate to share some photos from a camera with a least one foot in the past, the Bessa III 667, using Portra 400 film. Possibly, somewhere, in a neglected box, I’ve got some earlier snapshots of Mundal. I guess I should take a look for them.
Finally, after many failed attempts, I have finally been able to experience and (sort of) photograph the Aurora Borealis. This time, rather than Iceland, we travelled to Tromsø, with at nearly S70 is in an ideal location, is quite easy to get to, and frankly is a little less encumbered with the “wow, aren’t we amazing hardy unemotional nordic folk” vibe which can get a little tiresome in Iceland.
On Jan 1st we really struck oil, arriving in town just in time to witness a full blown spectacular show. The next day we got a reasonable display out in the Lyngen Alps, on a snowmobile trip. Not perfect for photography but good fun. The third day, planned for a more photo-orientated experience, was pretty much a dead loss, so we ended throwing in a fourth attempt on a pack-em-in coach tour, and actually that was not so bad. It was notable that the 50-seater coach followed almost exactly the same itinerary as the previous evening’s “expert Aurora hunter” trip which was billed as going were the major tours can’t get to. Whatever.
No earth-shattering photography, but that wasn’t the point, it was more of a short, fun, holiday. Here are some quick edits of what I did grab.