Text & interview by Jane Rowley
Over a period of four years the artist Trine Søndergaard patiently gathered the images in the series Interior. Revisiting and returning to the winter rooms of the uninhabited Danish manors she has chosen as the latest sites for her unique precision and sensibility – and continuing interrogation of the photographic image.
The manors had been empty for over a half century when she first arrived. A shell of the past – their rooms stripped and devoid of life. There are clear associations with the 19th century Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi: the harmonic tonality of a palette of greys, the acute awareness and rendering of light. Søndergaard mirrors this masterly use of natural light – slowly, painstakingly drawing out the muted nuances of dusty white on white, challenging perceptions of the instantaneousness of photography – especially in the digital age.
In Interior the exposure is long – as is the perspective. The tunneling depth of doors beyond doors, the many staircases ending at a window and the view beyond – altars to the image and the light outside the damp decay of the manors’ thick walls.
A visual and thematic continuation of her former portrait series Monochrome Portraits and Strude, the images in Interior explore an inner state of mind – probing what is usually concealed and hidden from view. Only here the images, like the buildings, are uninhabited. The only human traces captured in the waning light are ghostly footprints, and words scratched into the petrified dust on an attic window that can no longer be closed. Open to the elements – the interior and exterior no longer hermetically sealed.
What was the first picture you took?
I got my first camera when I was in 4th grade. It was a small, rectangular pocket Kodak – the kind that was popular back in the 1980s. I photographed what was around me – my friends and pets. Later photography became more of a method to investigate the world, rather than only a way to register what I saw. And when I got older and went to folk high school and the Danish school of art photography, Fatamorgana, I discovered that I could also express something with my images.
How would you describe your style?
I donʼt really connect the word style with my work. I might have a style, but when Iʼm working Iʼm more interested in investigating a specific subject or state of mind – thatʼs where my focus lies. My early works were highly confrontational and expressive. Today my images are less direct and more introvert, because Iʼm interested in stillness, inner calm and secrets.
Do you have a favourite subject?
My favourite subjects as a photographer are rooms and portraits. I never get tired of looking at people. Just like we never stop scrutinising our own reflection – trying to understand ourselves and the ageing process weʼre all subject to and that constantly changes us. My work with portraits is more about recognition and realisation than the individual in the image.
What creates a good image?
Thereʼs no set formula. The French theorist Roland Barthes talks about a good photograph having a punctum – a distinct point that captures or retains the spectatorʼs gaze. And whilst thatʼs true, a good image is often a combination of several factors: an idea, technical skill, what you see and frame. Itʼs often a process you canʼt totally control. But I do think for a long time before I take a photograph. There are already way too many images in the world, so I try not to take too many. I only take the pictures I find necessary.
Do you have a role model?
Thereʼs not one individual I could single out, but there are several artists from different periods of art history have inspired me over the years. And of course there are a whole series of names from the history of photography. Rather than one individual, Iʼd say I find my inspiration in a whole series of sources and impressions – art, film, literature, social debates, etc.
What inspired you to make the Interior series?
The place really just fascinated me. The manor house was locked and bolted, the rooms inaccessible. The atmosphere there made me want to work with that kind of space. The interiors have stood unused for so many years. They have no purpose – theyʼre just waiting in a kind of time warp. Not forever, of course. Although it can feel that way.
What do you want to tell with these images?
Like my portraits, the interiors turn away from the world. They address the same mental space as the portraits. Thereʼs a calmness and the space to sense. Several of the rooms have many doors, entrances and exits, large expanses that make the motifs simple and open to interpretation.
Your earlier works focus on people and nature. Whatʼs the difference between photographing living and static subjects?
Thereʼs not a big difference, but of course I get involved in a different way when I photograph people because I need to communicate and direct them. Over the years Iʼve worked with the interaction between the two forms. As an artist I donʼt have a fixed catalogue of genres or subjects I repeat. Iʼm free to choose, depending on where my ideas and inclinations take me.
Your images, both in this series and earlier works, have a certain hushed quality. Is this a conscious choice?
When I started photographing my work was based on the documentary tradition. I wanted to make dynamic images that told several stories at once. Later I gave myself permission to be ʻboringʼ. It felt almost forbidden to make images that were so muted. I donʼt feel that way anymore. Now I work consciously with testing the boundaries of the image – seeing how quiet it can be without losing its life and visual magic.