Jörgen Axelvall | Interview by "more more art"

Jörgen Axelvall’s Interview was published on "more more art"

—The trending aesthetic is completely different between West and East. In your work, the use of colour and the layer of greyscale is closer to East style. Does the Japanese Ukiyoe print influences your work?

A lot of my work is done on polaroid and instant film; it’s been my preferred medium since the early 90’s when it was still relatively cheap and available everywhere. I didn’t make the connection back then but I think original polaroid film resembles what you call Eastern style - more muted colors and tones. 

I also always use available light whereas one of the dominating trends for many many years has been a strong flash on camera. I wouldn’t say Ukyo-e prints have had any direct influence on my work more than the fact that I like them. I notice getting influenced by Eastern aesthetics almost subconsciously though, just from living in Asia for a number of years now.

–Flowers are normally used to describe woman. But I find two important elements in your work, which are man and flowers. Your model's gesture is also soft and graceful, even feminization.Is this the side of man that you are fascinated?

I’m gay and that’s a big reason I photograph men and I also love flowers. Flowers and nature impacted me from a very early age - gardening was part of my upbringing.

For my latest exhibition ‘And I reminisce’, which is my life-work of sorts, I wrote a short story where I look back at my earliest memories; from my childhood, through adolescence to becoming a young adult. In the text I compare society’s different attitude towards loving flowers and loving someone of the same sex. A man’s love for flowers was considered perfectly normal and nurtured during my childhood whereas same-sex love was considered strange and somewhat discouraged. In a better world there would be no difference – love is love - period.

—After looking through your portrait photos. Either from Go To Become or Oide. I don't remember people's face clearly, but a similar sense of solitary and melancholy come into my mind. Do you agree whoever you photograph, the photo is finally a kind of reflection of yourself.

Go To Become is clearly autobiographic work; my personal experience moving to Japan, feeling lonely and confused. I explained my feelings to the model, he’s also my friend, and we went to work at my 'sacred' places. The same places I would go to by myself at night, to find solace.

As for my other portraits - they are not always meant to be me but all my work projects me. It’s unavoidable since I know myself the best and I’m trying to tell an honest story.

—Are you a naturism? Or naked body is just a form that you choose to express.

I do like being naked but I’m not a nudist. Japan has a long tradition of onsen culture (hot springs and public baths) and Sweden has its sauna culture where you spend hours being naked in public and I like it very much. We are all born nude and nudity is the great equalizer - we are all the same without clothes. When we are naked we become just people, there’s no way to tell if someone is rich or powerful. 

Fashion is great and inspiring but it’s also a costume, almost theatrical and it doesn’t fit in the story I’m telling.

—'Blurred vision' is one of the strong characteristic in your work. Do you think "Blurred" can bring different feelings to viewers? Either callback more memory or active the inner feelings.

I don’t know how other people see things but my natural vision is actually not very sharp. Digital pictures taken with the latest technology looks nothing like how I see the world. I find most sharp clear pictures boring, be it photography, painting or any other visual. 

I’m looking to evoke a feeling or a memory - quite abstract and blurry emotions. I like to think when I see an image, to decipher and figure out what I’m actually looking at.

—Mitsuo Takahashi have wrote poets for Go To Become, How do you think the relationship of texts and photos.

I love reading - books and poetry. Even as a visual artist I often find the written word to be equally powerful, sometimes even more so, than an image. I use poetry and words as an added layer in my artworks. It can be difficult combining visuals and words into a harmonious piece. 

Advertising use text and visuals all the time but I wouldn’t call that harmony; that’s propaganda, a way to make a message louder and unescapable. When I incorporate words, my own or in the case of Mutsuo Takahashi’s poetry, I do it to give my work another dimension; multi-layered. At the same time I like the visual and the word to be strong enough to stand on its own. It’s not necessary to read the words but if you do I believe it adds something.

—You have mentioned Tokyo is a good place for making project. Do you think your personality fits in Tokyo as well.

Tokyo is good for working, to stay focused. It’s a bit of a bubble for me; real but not tangible. In a split second I can choose to space out - I never watch Japanese TV and I have no clue about local celebrities or gossip and it’s liberating. I also can’t read much Japanese, especially kanji and it’s ignorant of me but also gives me a strange sense of freedom. It reminds me of being a kid before I knew how to read. I used to go grocery shopping with my mother and I clearly remember only seeing colors and design and no text or messages.

I don’t have the right to vote in Japan which makes me a secondary citizen but I’m fine sitting here watching the wheels go around, from a distance. Meanwhile I concentrate on my work. My personality fits anywhere inhabited by kind people.

—Commercial assignment and personal work usually has conflicts. Do you have the similar concern?

I have done commercial works in the past. Luckily I have always been commissioned for who I am and what I do. In that sense there has not been much of a conflict. 

It’s somewhat flattering when asked by a big commercial company to help them sell their products and the pay check is usually welcome but an artist never creates to sell. I used to think I could bridge the gap between art and commerce but no more. I’m not interested in consumerism. 

—Besides the work in fashion photography industry, are you making or planning new personal project recently? 

Yes, continuously I have about three or four project in my head. Some are nearly complete and some are just taking shape. Recently I’m all about processing my first 40 years of life. Possibly it’s a mid-life thing. I’m looking forward to creating in the ‘now’ again and I can feel it happening but I don’t have a clear vision of it yet

—Have you been to China, what is the impression of China? Do you follow any of Chinese photographers?

I have been to Shanghai and Beijing. Especially in Beijing I saw a vibrant art scene. I’d like to travel outside the big cities and see more of your immense country. I have great respect for China - the people, the rich culture and the accumulated wisdom China possess through its history.

I come from a very different culture and it’s not fair of me to judge but as an artist I’m concerned about the current political leadership in China seemingly trying to control people’s right to freedom of speech. I’m from Sweden, a small neutral social-democratic country that’s been at peace for over 200 years. We can say, write and read whatever we want, we can criticize our government and leaders without repercussion and the whole world’s information is available without any restrictions. 

Unfortunately I see totalitarian powers on the rise all over the world at the moment, Japan and the West are no exceptions. Ultimately we all want peace, love and freedom. The people have the power to get this and we shall persevere. 

There are many great photographer but I really don’t ‘follow’ anyone. One of my Chinese friends here in Tokyo is a photographer. His name is Xiangsju and I think he does really great work with quite simple means. I also find Sun Yanchu’s work interesting.