Interview by Jonathan Freemantle
See a selection of Krijno’s work here
JRNL: Im hesitant to ask you about meaning or narrative in your work, partly because I sense in your photographs a transcendence of meaning. Although your output might appear disparate I am aware of a binding quality connecting each image to the next. I can only assume that this is the eye of the photographer, your eye, coming through. But your presence in these images is very quiet, even unassuming, and leaves the viewer with a rare, undisturbed space in which to view the motif (if indeed there is one). Is this something you consciously work on? And if so, how do you prepare yourself for a photograph?
Nico Krijno: Essentially, I’m fascinated by a certain self-aware vulnerability in people and moments - even objects for that matter - a vulnerability I might be feeling at the time. It’s a result of an ongoing, fractured and subconscious but active routine of searching for a new, “pure” way of looking and the interconnectedness of things.
I want to show the multiplicity of the nature of things. That things aren’t always so simple, and that there aren’t always clear and definitive answers. I don’t want to be trapped in one ‘style’ or stifled by genre, or focus on one thing and make that my life’s work. That will bore me, and will be a lie.
I also try to eliminate any exaggeration or dramatisation, especially when it comes to portraiture; I want to capture a honest mood - no hiding behind fake smiles or silly gesturing. I’m also trying to get rid of all the so called “magic” techniques like mood lighting that divide us from the subjects and are usually considered enhancements of the subject or the picture. I want to strip it bare and show the truth. Photography as art comes with preconceptions that have kept it very rigid as a medium. But the way things are moving now is very exciting. Contemporary photography is all about the editing. I’m constantly aware of this editing process, what happens after I’ve taken the image, how things will work together and how they interconnect. This mixture of images is key to the process and how I present my work to the public and how I want to reflect my inclusive vision of the world.
Ansel Adams said: “A photograph is usually looked at, seldom looked into”. I think this goes for most art. The same goes for the way most people navigate their path though the world. Good art encourages the viewer to look through the corporeal and into the moment. Is it important to you to achieve this transformation in the viewer? That most people get your work on the level you intended?
Yes and no. I obviously want people to “get” my work, but images can change because of circumstance and they can change because things have got a higher resonance in certain people’s memories. Certain colours and objects resonate differently in all of us. I believe you have to allow yourself new ways of accessing your own work. When you’re not working with rigid ideas and formulas, ideas have to find their own way and take their own time to surface.
Do you set out to take a particular photograph, or are you responding to instincts in the moment? By this I mean: How much of your practice involves a contrivance to achieve an aim/result and how much of it is in response to a random impulse or visual stimuli?
I’m constantly responding to instincts, so I’m not photographing according to a set recipe. If you go into something with very set out ideas, you only get that idea and you cut yourself off from the possibility of other exciting things that might happen, so I do invite the element of chance when I work. I would say 60% is completely setup/staged with themes planned out, the rest is a spontaneous reaction to my impulses and immediate surrounds. Having fun definitely plays a big role. I also think my way of “looking” affects my process and outcome. I’m slightly blind, or rather I only have full use of my one eye, the other is slightly defective, so when I stop to take a picture, I defocus or blur my vision, quite instinctively, and compose the image. Essentially what im doing is stripping the information down to just colour and form.
I’ve always been intrigued by the interchange between your subjects (essentially human, landscape and still life) and the blurring of boundaries. Particularly how, for example, a vase of dead flowers is imbued with a human frailty in one photograph where as in another photograph a sleeping man in a park seems lifeless, presented as simply another feature in the landscape. I sense compassion as well as a refreshing objectivity, that nothing is elevated above another. Is this accurate?
My work is a varied mix of scenarios - staged set-up scenarios, real snapshots, reportage images, portrait sittings, each picture has its own method, but yes the lines are blurred, and I guess its all a play with our idea or perception of aesthetics and beauty, and what is perceived as art in the contemporary photography sense. I’m not trying to juxtapose something beautiful with something abject or banal - I want to portray both things in the image as equally valid and worthy of contemplation; that said, I can only really photograph things that I understand in some way or another. [The] same goes for the people I photograph; I would like to feel some connection to the sitter, be it a lover, a close friend, or just someone who gets my vision. I have to feel some strong connection for it to work.
There are certain subjects you return to regularly, most notably your girlfriend, Mignonne. Your photographs of her show remarkable candour and tenderness. Are all the various photographs of her essentially your concept or is there an element of collaboration (beyond the implicit collaboration between artist and muse)?
She is definitely a central subject, and a bold force behind me. She has played a very influential role in my development, focused me in many ways and forced me to believe in my vision. I sometimes have some silly ideas, and she will bring it back to earth, and make sense of it somehow, which is really quite amazing. So, I think its more a collaboration; she has definitely moved beyond the obvious muse role. The depiction of other people is fascinating, even more so if its a psychological undertaking or a lifelong focus on a single person. I would love to publish a book in ten years of all my works of her.
Having said I was hesitant to look for a narrative or theme in your work there is one theme that keeps popping up for me: A relationship of two: between you (photographer) and the subject, between two random objects, two people, a person and their shadow, between animate and inanimate and so on. Without fail this lends an intimacy to the photograph, as if the viewer is being invited into a private conversation. Am I off on a tangent here?
No not at all, this is very true.
What books/people/artists/places inspire you most? Forgive the obvious question but Im very interested in understanding how this might have shaped your vision.
I think [John] Baldessari’s work has definitely influenced me the most. The way he uses the space for his installations and his appropriation of existing images. He once said when asked if he had taken and image of a dog: “No, I found it, why should I take an image of a dog if there are so many to choose from”.
I often ask myself, “What’s the point of this image, do we really need another image of a cat or a dolphin?” I find that very relevant in today’s culture, we are bombarded with so many images/eye candy everyday, to the point that we’ve become desensitised. Social networking is also playing a very big role in the development/growth of the young medium of photography. I’m very influenced by the colour photography of William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. I also appreciate Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha’s publications, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Jarmusch, Rainer Fassbinder. I don’t know if anyone will ever know what truly inspires them though.
Was there a moment where you decided to be a photographer? If so, could you describe it?
I think it finally clicked when I was about 20 and looking though a book featuring Japanese artist Takashi Homma’s work. At the time I was studying directing, and goofing around with old VHS video cameras and sound, and was more focused on making strange videos, but then the importance of photography struck me.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My serious coffee addiction and a certain nervousness about something I need to get done. I’m a complete workaholic.
We’re looking forward to your forthcoming book and exhibition ‘On How To Fill Those Gaps’ at MUSEUM gallery. How did this collection evolve?
It came about travelling back and forth between Cape Town and the Eastern Cape, where I’m from and where my family still live. I went on various road trips for about two years, going to visit my family.
Whats next for Nico Krijno?
I’m working on very different series, which has been growing parallel to this one - I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient belief of Animism, which refers to the notion that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle; that souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, and rocks. I’m playing with this idea, which will also end up as a book, and I’m in talks about a group show in Europe next year.
Nico Krijno’s solo exhibition ‘On How To Fill Those Gaps’ runs from on 13 October – 10 November 2011 at MUSEUM gallery