The story of Joe began in Lars Von Trier’s film Nymphomaniac. A difficult story about a woman (played by actress Charlotte Gainsbourg) struggling with nymphomania, it held contradictions of personality as its central theme: can anybody truly betray their own nature, and what is that nature if we are to betray it? Taking the story of fictional character Joe as a starting point, Danish photographer Casper Sejersen — who was also the official photographer for the film — continues Joe’s ambiguous story with this book of photography, Belongs to Joe.
Sejersen’s book takes the same methodology of exploration as the film: Joe’s life is broken down into segments revolving around various objects. These are the ‘belongings of Joe’ that the title references, her memoirs communicated through text-based digressions and wandering detours on the obscure histories of each object. Naturally, the book contains images of nudity and sex – it would be difficult to avoid given the subject matter – but Sejersen’s images are shown with deadpan blandness, stripped of emotion. Suffused with a bland magnolia tint, fleshy but muted, they seem sexless, rather than shocking or pornographic. That is not to say that they aren't explicit, but then, so are the images of nature which are included, tree roots are spread wide with wooden labia between. Sejersen’s portraits, nude and otherwise, feature the actors from the movie: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia Lebeouf, and Christian Slater, among others.
Rich with symbolism, the book begins with an image of a stack of cards from a game of solitaire, a game connected with loneliness, isolation and Joes mother. It also doubles as an index to the rest of her life story. The loneliness connected with her mother is counterpointed by Joe’s love of her father, as shown through the inclusion of a photographic herbarium, a possession that he gave to her. The herbarium takes a symbolic break from the aesthetic of the rest of the book as though it is separate object inserted into the books narrative. This makes this moment of connection and love feel odd and alien to the rest of her story. Joes’ is an emotional story, which Sejersen’s images balance with their lack of visual emotion, though the book is not without a sense of humour, especially when viewed in the context of having seen the films. (Who can forget the humour of the silent duck?) A few light points ease up what is otherwise a dark descent into degradation, violence and destruction.
The book’s texts, written by Cecilie Høgsbro, are carefully constructed to reveal and conceal simultaneously. Occasionally exploiting the knowledge of her story as learned from the film, they revel in obscurantism to hide the answers that people still so desperately want from the film, while being immensely informative texts, if taken in isolation. Although the book at times can rely on a knowledge of the films, it does so in order to purposefully disturb it, turning the reading into a whole new experience. Belongs to Joe becomes a new perspective on the same narrative, a digression in itself from the previous cinematic object.
I just think I've always demanded more of the sunset than most people” - Joe
Belongs to Joe by Casper Sejersen is available from publisher MACK.