Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen has created a unique tribute to his homeland's cultural defining Norwegian Black Metal in his new series, Singing Norwegian Singers.
More than 40 photographs from Jonas Bendiksen’s project will be exhibited for the first time at the Leica Gallery in Mayfair, London.
Bendiksen says: “All around the world, I’ve had problems explaining my home country of Norway to people. Even if they imagine they know where this small nation is on the map – somewhere near the North Pole, many say – it is often difficult to find well-known Norwegian exports people can relate to.
“Nobel Peace prizes, fjords, oil exports, and even chess player Magnus Carlsen often yield a blank stare and a shake of the head.
“Not so with Norwegian metal.
“In fact, Norwegian extreme metal music has become one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. People all over the world know the lyrics, life stories and albums of bands like Gorgoroth, Burzum and Darkthrone, as well as newer and more obscure bands.
“I’ve met people in tiny villages from Bangladesh to Venezuela who almost self-ignite with excitement the moment I mention Norway.
“In the early 1990s, Norwegian Black Metal made its shocking entry on to the world stage with church burnings, homicides, stagecraft, with an intensity few had seen before. The growling vocals and intense riffs of metal music made in Norway somehow hit a primal dissonant note all over the planet.
“I wanted to photograph the music with the same directness and intensity. I took a flash and photographed Norwegian singers singing, head on.”
Jonas’ closely-cropped portraits, shot in dim light with red eye and an unsparing focus on the subject’s hair, beard and sweat bring the viewer remarkably close to the singers.
Each image is accompanied by a sound file of the singers, so that the photographs are not only to be looked at, but also experienced.
Bendiksen was born in Norway in 1977. He began his career at the age of 19 as an intern at Magnum’s London office, before leaving for Russia to pursue his own work as a photojournalist.
Throughout the years he spent there, Bendiksen photographed stories from the fringes of the former Soviet Union, a project that was published as the book Satellites (2006).
In 2005, with a grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, he started working on The Places We Live, a project on the growth of urban slums across the world, which combines still photography, projections and voice recordings to create three-dimensional installations.
Bendiksen’s awards include the 2003 Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, New York, second place in the Daily Life Stories for World Press Photo, and first prize in the Pictures of the Year International Awards.
His documentary of life in a Nairobi slum, Kibera, published in the Paris Review, won a National Magazine Award in 2007.
Jonas Bendiksen’s project was commissioned by Leica UK and shot on the Leica M rangefinder system over the past year.
Singing Norwegian Singers is on show at the Leica Gallery Mayfair from 11 – 27 October 2016.