It’s with a great pleasure that we are publishing this conversation with the Swedish artist Mårten Lange. After collaborating with him on JSBJ books Un langage en soi (2011) and Bruit de fond - Background noise (2010) we were excited to invite him to conceive the lead patterns of our Spring Summer 2015 collection.
Mårten Lange (born 1984) studied photography at Gothenburg University in Sweden (BFA) and at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, England (MFA). He self-published four books with Farewell imprint from 2007 to 2009. In 2012, his first major monograph Another Language was published by MACK. His work has been shown in exhibitions in Europe, the US and Japan. For our Spring Summer collection we invited you to collaborate on a series of 2 patterns around your work from Machina and Crows.
Can you tell us more about Machina? Where did the fascination with those enormous mechanical systems come from?
The Machina series was photographed in laboratories for research in nanotechnology, nuclear physics and microscopy. I had seen press images from the labs' PR departments and I was intrigued by the sterile and futuristic environment. In high school I studied natural science with the intention of continuing on to be an engineer or scientist. I ended up becoming a photographer, but I've always had the same core interest. How things look and how they work. I was fascinated by these machines because even though they look impossibly complex and chaotic, they are designed and constructed according to a plan.
I feel that there is a very silent element to your work. How do you feel that noise translates through your photography?
I'm always reducing, it's the way the medium works. Even the Machina pictures, visually complex as they may be, are not even close to the complexity of the real thing. I think I can say that my photography is a way of taking control of a very noisy world. Whittling away at reality until it can be looked at.
I know the photographs from Crows were taken at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, and I know that you have worked on a lot of other projects in Tokyo. Are there any specific reasons as to why you are so drawn to the city?
I came to Tokyo for the first time in 2008 as an exchange student and stayed 5 months. It was the first time I spent such a long time abroad and it was a very formative experience. My understanding of that place was and still is very superficial, which offers me a kind of freedom when photographing there.
Do Machina and Crows share any common points or would you say that they are diametrically opposed?
Formally, they have a lot in common. Flash, square format, monochrome, filling the frame with visual noise. Conceptually, maybe not so much but they do connect to the overarching theme of nature and science in my work.
You have pursued a large exploration regarding abstraction, the figurative, density and contrast within the usage of black and white in Photography.
How do you approach and work around a new series of images?
It can be something I saw or read about. Really simple. Sometimes a picture that doesn't fit in a certain series can become an offshoot, leading to a new idea. I think it's important not to think too narrowly in terms of projects at the outset. Even though my finished works are usually quite formally strict, they all start with an experimental approach.
If you had to pick one color, which one will it be?
In your work there is a fine balance between natural and urban landscape. Where does the interest in this contrast between urban and nature come from?
The crows can be seen as 'nature', but then they live in a park in a city with 36 million people. Both Landmark and Anomalies were for the most part photographed in sub-urban borderlands, where the city gets thinner. The machines look very far removed from nature, but they are tools for studying it. The dichotomy of nature and culture is a very interesting construct for me. And quite absurd, I think, because they are never separate.
In you work Another Language there is a certain narration to it; is this an important aspect within your work? Do you want to tell something or are these just clues for the viewer to create their own story?
I would say the latter. As soon as two images are put next to each other, there is tension between them and the viewer will begin to create a story to make sense of the coupling. The narration in Another Language is of the very simplest kind; something far away followed by something shot up close. Something living and then something dead that resembles it. I wanted to play with a basic iconography of nature. Archetypes like the island, the mountain, the cave, the moon and so on. There is no straightforward message, I don't think photography is suitable for that kind of story telling as it's so ambiguous.
You seem to have a fascination for exploration and human history. Do you ever wish you had been a scientist or an explorer?
Of course. But an artist can be both.
You published books as Farewell Books from 2007-2010, I am curious to know about your current approach on publishing?
I still consider books the primary outlet for my work. I sometimes miss the naive innocence of the Farewell project (I was still in university back then) but I've also enjoyed working with JSBJ/Études, and with MACK. The problem I have with self-publishing is that there is no editor. I like working with an editor who can bring something new to the work.
We are currently working on a new book together to be released in May 2015. Other than that, what are you currently working on?
I have several projects I'm developing in parallel. It slows down the process, working like that, but it also creates the possibility for ideas to cross over between projects.
Conversation with Mårten Lange, Copenhagen, March 2015. Photography by Études Studio