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Alexander Kelu


Alexander Kelu, "Antonis"; "Axel"; "Graham"; "Self-portrait 3"; "Self-portrait 2"; "Self-portrait 1".

Q: How do you deal with the concept of time and space within your methodology as a visual creative artist - and do you deal differently with time and space within the identity of the images you create?

A: I think every artist intuitively (or quite purposely) creates their own time and space. In the last few years, I’ve been focusing on the nature+human relationship, taking a lot of inspiration from mythology. Pre-agricultural beliefs particularly fascinate me. I often imagine how it would be to live in a world where humans aren’t trying to control nature, to mold it to their comforts and needs. That spills over into my imagery. I carefully avoid any direct references to, or traces of, human activity. I seek out relatively wild spots for my shoots, so that it’s just the human and the elements. At the same time, my visual language will change when I work on another idea, so nothing is set in stone.

Q: What would be the ideal scenario to create a truly embodied portrait?

A: For quite some time now, I’ve had this idea to create a series of (self-)portraits to reflect on the concept of landscape (and the related notion of nature) in corporeal terms. To go beyond the usual - scenic - approach, incorporating the body and the references to the five senses into the imagery, exposing it to the elements, subjecting it to the physicality (and the inherently multi-sensory nature) of landscape.

A scratch left on the flesh by a thorny branch of a blackberry bush; a rash as a reaction to contact with stinging nettle; being soaked in the rain; entering cold water in the winter; inhaling the freshness of the snow; standing in the mud with one’s bare feet; shielding one’s eyes from the scorching summer sun or seeking out a winter sunbeam to touch one’s face… The project would encompass all the four seasons and absorb the character of each of them. One day when I live closer to nature and can be more spontaneous, I will bring this idea to life, perhaps in a video format.

Q: When is a portrait image interesting for you?

A: I’ve spent some time thinking about it, but a definitive answer eludes me. I have some aesthetic preferences, so I know what I’m likely to respond to - natural light, lack of pretense or gimmicks, environmental portraiture. But there’s no recipe for the ultimate interesting portrait. I guess the most important quality of a good portrait is if it stirs an emotion in me, triggers a memory, or evokes a physical response. It’s hard to put my finger on it. I also realize that I am more often moved by the painted portrait rather than the photographic one.

Q: Does being unclothed in a portrait mean sexualisation?

A: It can mean it. Or not. It’s beside the point. I don’t think we should be talking about it as a dichotomy. It’s more of a scale. It’s all intertwined, and it’s beautiful! Even here in the Nordics, nudity is quickly becoming such a taboo. Especially male nudity. We are heading into some very dark times with traditionalists of all shades (and the social media that empower them) imposing an increasingly heavier imprint on our lives globally. It’s frightening, but it also makes me want to be even more rebellious and unapologetic about nudity. I also disagree with trying to justify nudity by distancing it from sex. It’s as if we’re conforming to the conservative worldview and agreeing that as long as a naked body is stripped of any sexual expression, it is pure and innocent, and therefore acceptable. And what remains is the dirty and the anomalous, something to be ashamed of. It’s just wrong.

Q: Is the medium you use important in portraying your identity as an artist?

A: It is, yes, but not in the sense that it defines me. I think it important not to get fixated on the medium. In photography especially, gear is often fetishized. The medium you choose should serve your mental process. Several years ago, I abandoned digital photography, bought a 1970’s camera and started shooting black-and-white film. It was a continuation of my broader effort to live a slower life. I also got very tired of the focus on tech specs and pixel-perfect quality that is so prevalent in the digital world. I’ve never been interested in perfection (in the bourgeois sense of the word). Artistry is about taking your time. You can’t cheat time.

I develop and scan my film at home, so there’s a lot of sweat and tears that go into every final image I put out there. I enjoy this process, even if it is frustrating sometimes (especially when my exposures are off!). At the same time, I don’t want to limit myself to just that. My current process fits my artistic goal at the moment, but that may change in the future. As long as it is in sync with what I want to say, I am open to any medium.


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