Any Answers

Any Answers: Rikard Osterlund

All images © Rikard Osterlund

Ahead of a new exhibition, curated by Billy Childish, at the Sun Pier House Gallery in Chatham, Swedish photographer Rikard Osterlund tells BJP how he discovered his wide-ranging photography practice, ranging from wet plates to iPhone shots.

Describe yourself in less than 50 words.
Swedish, 35. Loves to bake. Music geek and wannabe drummer.

When was the first time you became aware of photography? How old were you?
We always had family albums around, but it was probably not until I was 14/15 when I first really thought about it . My big brother had a makeshift darkroom in our spare toilet and it wasn’t long before I used his cameras more than he did.

What motivates you?
I am a visual person and use the camera to make sense of things. It is a way to be part of something and to reflect on, organise and question things that I encounter. As a freelance photographer it is a great thing to be able to bring someone else’s vision to life.

How did you learn to become a photographer?
Initially in school – it was very technical; a ‘light a studio-shot of a white egg on a white background and make a perfect fiber-print’ type of training. I got a BA in Photography in 2004 and I have attended a few workshops since then. Photobooks are a constant source of inspiration, looking at visual language and sequencing. The books of JH Engström have really challenged me lately – in a good way. Since the fall I’ve been running the Rochester Photobook Club, we meet every month to discuss a different book.

What are the common themes, subjects or concerns that run through all your work?
Identity has been a re-occuring theme in my conceptual projects; what things contribute to who we are.
Can you describe what you’re looking for in a photograph – are there any particular aesthetic concerns, or are you purely led by your engagement with your subjects?
Something archetypical and timeless. Universal.
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What’s the worst job you’ve done?
Working in a Pizza Hut. I left after 45mins.
What’s the genesis of this project?
I had spent 5 years completely engrossed in commercial commissions and, despite shooting actively on the side, I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and look at those images. Subconsciously I was questioning my own photographic language when I wasn’t doing the commercial briefs. Last year I escaped and did a masterclass in Venice and it unlocked something. After university I had struggled making images without a conceptual foundation, but after that week it was easy again. The red thread tying this exhibition together is my visual language, and some of that exploration is evident in the mix of images on display. When I had a longlist of images I asked my friend Billy Childish, an internationally acclaimed painter, if he would cast an eye on the selection and he offered to curate the show. The result is a selection of 40 images, shot on 9 different cameras (some are iPhone, some Wet Plates), but with a coherent photographic language.
Who’s your favourite photographer?
Anders Petersen

What’s the best photo you never took?
Sometimes it feels like it was the last one I took, but to quote Imogen Cunningham it is probably ‘“the one I’m going to take tomorrow.”
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The one photograph you’d save in a nuclear apocalypse – your own, or someone elses?
The Hug by Nan Goldin. A picture I took of my granddad before dementia took over. He is waving goodbye to my niece and nephew whose in a car, whilst my mum and brother hugs in the background.

Where did you grow and where do you live now? What are the pros and cons of each?
I grew up in Norrköping, Sweden, a city by the river with great industrial heritage. It is a beautiful city, close to open nature and it hosts a lot of great events throughout the year.Since 2001 I’ve lived around Rochester in Kent, which initially felt far from the ‘garden of England’ I imagined it to be in Sweden. The area has a really good energy and a supportive community of creatives.
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What’s your message to your younger self, in the moment they decided to be a photographer?
Don’t worry about seeking approval all the time, just continue to explore with your camera and look at Robert Frank’s ’The Americans’.
Selected Photographs by Rikard Österlund is exhibiting now at the Sun Pier House Gallery – 2nd Floor, Medway Street, Chatham, ME4 4HE. It will run until the 4th June 2016.