Auke Hulst interviews Stuart Franklin, one of the photographers whose work is being exhibited at the 19th edition of the International Noorderlicht Photofestival, Terra Cognita. Franklin says: ‘My camera is my passport to nature.’
When you think of the Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin (b. England, 1956), you don’t immediately associate his name with tranquil landscape photography. As guest curator for the Noorderlicht Human Conditions event in 2009 he assembled a much-discussed, controversial exhibition of the work of Palestinian photographers, and the former Magnum chairman has himself photographed the famine in Sudan, the Heizel stadium drama and the student uprising on Tiananmen Square. Still, landscape runs like a thread through his career.
The theme of the festival is the relation between man and nature. What is your own relation to nature? Has it changed over the years?
For me, photography has been a way to enter into a deeper interaction with nature. My camera is my passport to nature, as it were. I know for certain that I would have understood less about nature than I do now, if I had not been a photographer. In my project NARCISSUS I have tried to fathom precisely what it is that I find attractive in a landscape, and why. Often I catch myself searching for recognizable forms. I see them everywhere: a human face and animal forms, submerged in the landscape, the trees and plants. It’s a curious habit.
This work differs considerably from the more journalistic work for which you have become famous, both as a photographer and curator. At your Noorderlicht exhibition POINT OF NO RETURN viewers stood there crying, it was so confrontational. Is your landscape photography related to such work, or is it a necessary counterbalance?
It is all related, but don’t ask me how. I began doing landscape photos when I was eighteen. Sometimes I return to it, but certainly not continuously. I always work on a lot of things at the same time. But the photographic possibilities inherent in landscape never cease to interest me.
An unprecedented number of photographers submitted work this year. It is a theme that clearly strikes a chord with photographers.
I doubt if you can draw any conclusions directly from that. There are more people who are starting to photograph, and want to make a career as photographers – the threshold has become lower. It is possible that, precisely for that fact, there is automatically more landscape photography. But it could also be that, like myself, many people see the camera as an instrument with which they can give shape to and deepen their interest in nature.
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