Since Rebecca and I are traveling next week, we decided to post this month’s TWO LOOKS column a few days early. For January, we’re featuring the work of LAARA MATSEN, a U.S. photographer who also works as a curator and photo editor, and JONAS BENDIKSEN, Magnum’s sole Norwegian photographer. These married photographers have been together for about as long as we have, and, like Rebecca and myself, have worked on photographic books and exhibitions together, including Jonas’s two books, Satellites, his seven-year journey through the isolated communities on the fringes of the former Soviet Union, and his most recent book, The Places We Live, in which he documents the fragile dwellings of the poor in four of the most overcrowded cities in the world. Former New Yorkers, Laara and Jonas now live near Oslo with their son Milo, which is unfortunate for all of us who miss the couple’s warmth, insights, and humor, but lucky for the Norwegian photographic community.––Alex Webb
LAARA ON JONAS’S PHOTOGRAPH
When Jonas and I met in January 1998, he was preparing to move to the Russian Far East for a year to begin his first long-term photographic project. By August he was there, and on New Year’s Eve, 1999, I landed in Siberia for what was, in all practical senses, our fourth date. The story he was chasing there was subtle: the disappearance of a forgotten community. There wasn’t actually much happening in Birobidzhan, but each morning he would slip out of bed and go out into the deeply sub-frozen predawn to shoot, returning with numb hands a few hours later. I always stayed warm under the covers. He shot mostly slides, and there was no reliable photo lab in the small town, so the results of his labor remained unseen until I brought seven months worth of film back to New York for processing.
I spent many hours over the next three months holding his slides up to the window of my tiny Brooklyn apartment waiting to see him again. This image was one of my favorites then, and remains so after 11 years. Three people waiting for the bus in the cold. Simple. But also ambiguous, humorous, cinematically lovely, and an astute translation of the complex and elusive Russianness that I knew he had been hunting over there. More personally, it stood as concrete proof of the parts of Jonas that most fascinated me (and still do): his solid patience, keen awareness of nuance, and good Norwegian ability to tolerate ungodly cold.–– Laara Matsen
Laara is in the process of building a website.
JONAS ON LAARA’S PHOTOGRAPH
When Laara and I first got together, I moved into her tiny studio apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We used to sit out on the window ledge in the evenings, airing the tiny space out and watching people go by. It was my first real meeting with New York, and I remember that summer as a magical time. New York seemed so full of promise. I was fresh in photography, and New York was like a big cake made of things that could happen, and we were eating it.
Laara had taken this picture from the windows of our place. Just the fact that it was taken from that one spot makes it special to me. It was our first view, from our first window. But it’s the guy in the street, bleached dazzling white by the headlights of two trucks, that always grabs me. He always made me think of a blank slate. Like someone who had shed their skin, and was looking for a new one – looking for who he was or maybe who he should be. Looking back at that time, I think that’s how I felt, sitting on that window ledge, wondering what the future would hold.
Also, I think what I love about the picture is that it’s this otherworldly moment taken without actually leaving our house. Just a fleeting moment, that probably nobody else in the world saw except her. A good reminder that if one is open enough, magic can appear at any moment in the day, wherever you look.––Jonas Bendiksen