Touching the Distance, Thinking in Relation: Photography as a Practice of Seeing

Organizer: Forbundet Frie Fotografer
Zofia Cielatkowska
Artists: Christian Belgaux, Sofie Amalie Klougart, Magnus Cederlund, Mads Greve, Linda Zhengová, Andrea Gjestvang, Lin Shiauyu, Rebecca Jafari, Tonje Bøe Birkeland, Tomas Espedal, Katinka Goldberg, Jiri Havran, Anaïs Horn,Xenia Nikolskaya, Marina Vitaglione, Line Ørnes Søndergaard, Yohan Shanmugaratnam, John Erik Riley, Jordi Barreras, Adrian Bugge, Viel Bjerkeset Andersen
Panelists: Deborah Willis, Sofie Amalie Klougart, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Line Ørnes Søndergaard, Yohan Shanmugaratnam, Tonje Bøe Birkeland, Tonje Bøe Birkeland, Tomas Espedal, Viel Bjerkeset Andersen, Siv Hofsvang
Satellite partners: Deichman Bjørvika I Deichman Grünerløkka I Deichman Torshov I Fotografihuset I CYAN studio I Fotogalleriet I Tronsmo
Supporters: Art Council Norway, Oslo municipality, The Norwegian Photographic Fund (Nofofo), Fritt Ord Foundation, Norske Fagfotografers Fond, Bergesenstiftelsen
International partners&friends: Hong Kong Photo Festival, Fotograf Festival Praha

Fotobokfestival Oslo 2021 was focused on the issue of representation in photography: how does photography speak for or affect various important personal, social, and political issues? In other words, the photographic medium was considered a tool, witness, and register of how we see, connect, and relate to others and the world.  The festival’s books were grouped into three themes that corresponded to three locations: 

(1) ‘Representation and Beyond’ at Fotogalleriet focused on broadly defined portraiture; 
(2) ‘Photography and Words’ at Oslo’s public libraries (Deichaman Bjørvika / Grunerløkka / Torshov) was devoted to a genre of books dealing with a particularly strong relationship between image and text – especially literary texts; 
(3) ‘Photography and Public Space’ at Arbeidersambunnets plass was devoted to the problematic question of who (and how) one is present in city public space.

The FFO’s seminar “Photography and Words: Narratives, Stories, Representations”, which took place at Deichman Bjørvika on 23rd of August, served as an occasion to investigate carefully the aforementioned three themes. Additional fourth theme (4) ‘Critical Contexts’ included books that elaborated or commented on vital issues related to contemporary photography. Both Fotogalleriet and Deichman libraries were showing all of the books of the Fotobokfestival, however each of them had a slightly different focus, and so the books were exhibited in a relevant design. 

Fotogalleriet | 20-22 August 2021
Fotogalleriet hosted a temporary installation, ‘Representation and Beyond’, which focused on investigating the historical and current status of broadly defined portraiture (including self-portraiture). Apart from works that fit a more classical understanding of this particular genre, the installation also includes photographs that avoid a literal understanding of portraiture in favor of abstract – or simply different – representational forms connected to various personal or ethical issues (intimacy, politics, etc.). In this context, the portrait becomes a mirror of various visual languages and approaches underlined by one main rule: respect for the photographed subject and understanding of his/her situation and the given context. This part was exhibited in a specially designed table inviting the viewer to follow a particular narrative. 

This theme included books/projects of such artists as: Dawoud Bey, Christian Belgaux, Magnus Cederlund, Andrea Gjestvang, Mads Greve, Rebecca Jafari, Sofie Amalie Klougart, Lin Shiauyu, Linda Zhengová. Fotogalleriet also hosted book launches/ artist talks (with Rebecca Jafari, Tonje Bøe Birkeland, Fin Serck-Hanssen) and shortlisted photobook dummies from the Inaugural Hong Kong Photobook Festival (Clean Hong Kong Action by Siu Wai-hang, The Man Who Attends to the Times by Yim Sui-fong, The Dayspring of Eternity by Lau Chi-chung).

Deichman Bjørvika, Grünerløkka, Torshov
The theme ‘Photography and Words’ (or photography and literature) presented these unique publications in which text and photography are in dialogue. These connections between the text and image vary from explicit to nuanced, from obvious to unapparent, from scientific to poetic. Sometimes one adds something to another, sometimes something gets lost, but for sure they create a specific form. ‘Photography and Words’ focused precisely on these unique publications treat the photographic image not just as a purely informative or aesthetic supplement, but as a meaningful component.

This theme included books of such artists and/or writers as: Tonje Bøe Birkeland, Tomas Espedal, Katinka Goldberg, Jiri Havran, Anaïs Horn, Xenia Nikolskaya, Marina Vitaglione, Line Ørnes Søndergaard, Yohan Shanmugaratnam, John Erik Riley.  

The exhibition was touring in between Oslo’s public libraries and was shown at;  Deichman Bjørvika (August 19 – September 5), Deichman Grünerløkka (7-19 September), and Deichman Torshov 21-4 October). After the festival, all photobooks were donated to the public library (more details at  

Public space (Arbeidersamfunnets Plass) 
While previous iterations of Fotobokfestival Oslo hosted display containers, the Arbeidersamfunnets plass in 2021 included a temporary installation set up in dialogue with Viel Bjerkeset Andersen’s already existing sculptures, Towards North (Mot nord), the square’s original 2009 renovation plan, and current status of the place that was overtaken by the commercial actors. Books were ‘displayed’ and ‘presented’ as audio recordings accessible through QR codes in specially designed capsules of tranquility protecting the viewer from the surrounding noise and providing a space to sit down. Visual elements appeared on existing elements of the space thus emphasizing its previous clearness and functionality and current chaos and neglected state. 

Artists presented in this part apart already mentioned Viel Bjerkeset Andersen were Jordi Barreras (Already But Not Yet, 2020), and Adrian Bugge (Y. Bygget som forsvant, 2021). 

The Seminar: Photography and Words: Narratives, Stories, Representations 
(Deichman Bjørvika, 23 August, 15.30-18.30)

The festival’s seminar ‘Photography and Words’ brought together academics, theoreticians, artists, and writers to comment on the books included in the festival. While the primary focus of the seminar was this particular relation between photography and literature, it was not limited to this theme. The seminar was composed of three panels: the first panel, ‘Representation and Beyond’, was devoted to contemporary critical contexts; the second panel, ‘Photography and Words’, investigated the aforementioned relations between photography and literature, and the third panel commented on ‘Public Space’. The seminar’s speaker included; Deborah Willis, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Tomas Espedal, Viel Bjerkeset Andersen, Siv Hofsvang. 

Libraries: Deichman Bjørvika, Grünerløkka, Torshov


Public space (Arbeidersamfunnets Plass)

Dawoud BeyClass Pictures, Aperture (2007); Street Portraits, MACK (2021) 
Christian Belgaux, Sofie Amalie KlougartDette året, Molo (2021) 
Magnus CederlundIntime, Journal (2020)
Mads Greve, Homesick, Book Lab (2021) 
Linda ZhengováCatharsis, self-published (2021) 
Andrea GjestvangAtlantic Cowboy (2022) | project 
Lin Shiauyu, Mould (2022) | project
Rebecca JafariDet du (ikke) ser (2021) | project

Tonje Bøe BirkelandThe Characters, The Buthan Trilogy, Bergen Kjøtt
Publishing/Gyldenpris Kunsthall (2021)
Tomas EspedalMitt privattliv, Gyldendal (2014)  
Katinka GoldbergBristingar, Journal (2021) 
Jiri HavranPhoto After Sebald A New Way Of Looking At W.G. Sebald’s Photographs , ARFO(2019)
Anaïs HornJe suis malheureuse et heureuse, Meta books (2020)
Xenia NikolskayaThe House My Grandfather Built, Nikolskaya-Lund Publishing (2020)
Marina VitaglioneSolastalgia, Overlapse (2017)
Line Ørnes Søndergaard (photo), Yohan Shanmugaratnam (text), BRUDDET (The Split) Forlaget Press (2021) 
Karl Ove Knausgård (text) Stephen Gill (photos), Fuglene under himmel, Oktober (2019)
John Erik RileyDet jeg var, Cappelen Damm (2020)

Jordi BarrerasALREADY BUT NOT YET, Punctum (2020)
Adrian BuggeY. Bygget som forsvant (The building that disappeared), Uten Tittel (2021)
Viel Bjerkeset AndersenTowards North (Mot nord) 2009 | sculptures at the Arbeidersamfunnets plass

Ariella Aïsha AzoulayPotential History Unlearning Imperialism,  Verso (2019)
Kimberly Juanita BrownThe Repeating Body, Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary, Duke University Press (2015)
Mark SealyDecolonising the Camera: Photography in Racial Time, Lawrence Wishart (2019)
Deborah Willis Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present, W. W. Norton & Company (2002)

SEMINAR GUESTS:  Deborah Willis, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Tomas Espedal, Viel Bjerkeset Andersen, Siv Hofsvang

Rachel Dagnall, Thorbjørn Reuter Christiansen
Art Installation/Set up design for Fotogalleriet, Arbeidersamfunnets plass and Deichman