I was the first name on the list for the Eyes as Big as Plates event in the Juncture 2014 festival, that’s how excited I was when I heard that the artists behind the project were coming to Leeds.
Eyes as Big as Plates is an ongoing collaborative venture between Riitta Ikonen (Finland) and Karoline Hjorth (Norway). It started in 2011 and has taken them to Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, France, and this past week, Ilkley in Yorkshire. Riitta described finding Karoline by Googling “photographer Norway grannies” as coming up with Karoline to work with on the project. Luckily they got on really well and the partnership has went from strength to strength.
Starting out as a play on characters from Nordic folklore, Eyes as Big as Plates has evolved into a continual search for modern human’s belonging to nature. Inspired by the Romantics’ celebration of imagination, each image in the series presents a solitary figure in a landscape, dressed in elements from surroundings that indicate neither time nor place.
The natural world acts as both content and context in this work, with the characters literally inhabiting the landscape. The production of each image further involves a certain collision of temporality: the fleeting instant of the photographic moment, the more ‘mythic’ time created within the image and the participants’ mental transition as they become one with their wearable sculpture and the surrounding natural landscape.
The photographs captures that special happening between person and nature and their relationship with each other. In the images there is no trace of urban life but the clothes the person wears beneath the natural sculptures made from materials found in the landscape. These natural garments not only come directly from the landscape, but mirror a part of the person or a memory as well as acting as a narrative – for example the lady in the picture below did her first parachute jump at 85, and her second at 90, and hear she depicts the north wind.
They normally work with only one person, but they have been experimenting with two but not yet achieved the perfect format.
Riitta and Karoline found themselves in Leeds at the very heartfelt invitation of the dance maker Wendy Houstoun, who was curating Juncture 2014, a festival of contemporary movement, theatre and film. They spent a week working with four older people, photographing them at Ilkley Moor and then presenting the work at an event at The Tetley on Saturday 8 March 2014.
They said it was a real luxury that Yorkshire Dance (organisers of the festival) had the models organised for them. Their usual style is to approach people they like the looked off, or admired their style, or making use of their friends, families and neighbours, either as models or to put them in contact with older people they may know.
In this same way they approach the staging of the photographs. In beginning they explained that they would have the composition sketched out and well planned, but nowadays they just go for it in the landscape, perhaps having a rough idea of what they want to achieve rather than being very prescriptive. They give their models very little direction too, other than asking them not to smile.
The artists say that the core of the project is meeting people, visiting different landscapes and places, and capturing moments where the model transforms into the space. They say the photos are just a happy outcomes that mean that they can share the experience with others. As people and places are key, they rely heavily on the picnic as an important part of the shoot. Little wonder as often they are out in the countryside for eight hours or more, but also as a way to enjoy the place and the company.
Karoline shoots in analogue using a medium format camera. She also takes photos with a digital camera so she has immediate feedback on location. Unfortunately Karoline talked about the ‘great sadness’ when in Iceland and of the whole period shooting their only 25% of the hundreds of photos could be processed. Her camera had broken and without developing the photos immediately she didn’t know. While they were in Yorkshire they processed as they went (just incase), recommending CC Imaging Ltd.
What came across the most from the artists’ talk was that their warmth, enthusiasm, and positivity was really infectious and you couldn’t help but want to find out more about their ideas or to work with them. Their wonderful personalities have probably served them very well in achieving residencies and approaching random people on the street to pose for them.
The talk taught be a lot about how projects can grow and develop and morph in new directions. I also learnt about responding to people and landscape and having a direction but not a plan. I very much enjoyed the event and love the Eyes as Big as Plates project even more than ever.