It was never an obvious choice that I would become a professional photographer – despite finding the love of photography early in my life. I never had that eye-opening experience that many photographers talk or write empathically about, who grew up in the old analogue film-based realm. When they recall the first time they saw a picture emerge in the darkroom they speak about it as a revelation – and knew from then on there would be nothing but photography. The fact is I never thought much about the work I had to do in the darkroom, I deemed it tedious and boring. So that wasn’t it. In addition I had set a different course for myself when I began studies at university level.
So how come I became a photographer, after all? Was it purely coincidental; random events that set the course for me – or would it eventually have happened any way some time? Did the fact that my grandfather was a portrait/studio photographer have any influence – despite the fact that I never saw him at work as a photographer? Was it friends that indirectly persuaded me to sway from my set course? Or was it after all my own mind and soul that led me to choose the path of photography, albeit a little late. Would my love for photography have emerged no matter what? And would it have directed me towards a professional career at some point even if I started out heading in a different direction?
How do we become what we are? Is it random? Is it fate? Or is it predestined in some way or form?
I began photographing very early in my life. My first camera I shared with my sister. It was not love by first sight. I think I took less than a couple of frames with the camera which I don’t recall what was, besides a simple plastic camera shooting 120 film. As far as I remember I already lost interest after the first roll of black and white film, and then let my sister take over. My first camera I owned myself was a Christmas present from my before mentioned grandfather. It was an Agfa Iso Rapid, the back then German giant’s equivalent of the Kodak Instamatic easy film system. I was 10 at the time, and the simple camera didn’t do much to push me in the direction of discovering the beautiful world of photography. It wasn’t the camera’s fault, though, I used it in holidays and such – and was happy with the result.
The first step into discovering the magic came with a friend of mine. It was some years later and both of us shared a love for nature. We ventured out early and late, and in our teens we were already pretty savvy outdoor enthusiasts, by now for instance backpacking in the high mountains during wintertime. It was probably only natural that one of us would make the connection between nature and photography. It was my friend. He was a paper boy and for the money he made he bought an inexpensive SLR produced in former East-Germany. Strangely enough I still remember the brand to this day; a Praktica Super TL. Still with my Agfa Iso Rapid and he with his Praktica, we started venture out into nature with the pursuit of immortalizing its splendour.
Soon after, my grandfather once again came to my help pushing my photography into the next level. He gave me a used rangefinder camera for 35 mm film. It was an Arette IA – and now I felt like a real photographer. But of course my rangefinder camera couldn’t compete with my friend’s SLR. When it came time for my confirmation (despite the fact that most Norwegian don’t take their Christian faith very seriously, most kids do their confirmation; I believe because of the presents involved). I was very clear that I desired a SLR camera. And not just any brand, but the 1000 Mamiya DTL. It had a double exposure metering system; you could choose between average metering and spot metering. That’s was grand! I did get it – and suddenly I was not behind my friend any more when it came to gear. I was 15 then and equipment matters at that age. The Mamiya was an awesome camera, but compared to today’s electronic cameras heavy as a brick – it was nothing clear of a mechanical monster. But for the time it was a dream come true. It used what we called automatic lenses; it automatically closed down the aperture when the shutter was triggered. Which meant that we could look through the viewfinder at full opening and not only try to make out a dark image on the viewing screen. That was technical wizardry. Of course today all SLR lenses are automatic in this sense – but nobody even knows. Automatic film winding? Forget about it. Auto focus? Are you joking? Or even exposure meeting at open aperture? No way. This would all be imaginary science fiction – unthinkable.
While my friend early on began exploring black and white in the darkroom I quickly discovered the grandness of slide films (which of course also has to be seen in light of what I just wrote about darkroom work). My preferred film in the beginning was Agfa CT18. The digit 18 referred to the speed of the film, which of cause was stated by the German norm DIN – Deutsche Industrie Norm. 18 DIN was the equivalent of 50 ISO or ASA as it was called back then, so I got used to low light sensitivity. Imagine how delighted I am today when I with my digital camera I can use 400 ISO as a standard. The Agfa CT18 was inexpensive, well, relatively at least, and included developing in the price. It was only years later when I started shooting with another friend of mine I found out how bad it was. He used Ektachrome which had more muted and real colours as well as much less grain. I swopped, of course. The Ektachrome later became Kodachrome, before at the end of the film era I got to use Fujichrome. I loved its muted colours.
It was yet another friend that got me interested in the finer creative details of photography. He recruited me to start subscribing to the Norwegian photo magazine Fotografi. I was for a long time undecided about it, because the subscription was quiet expensive for me at that time (I was still not in high school). But when I received the first issue I suddenly discovered a whole new world of possibilities and imagery. It was really from then on my love for photography caught on.
Eventually I started delivering papers as well, and my first wages I saved to be able to buy a Soligor 300 mm. Remember back then it was all nature for me, and I needed a long lens to be able to photograph birds. Of course today I have gone in the other direction; it’s all wide angles for me, but then of course I am not so much a wildlife or nature photographer any more. But that Soligor was another dream come true. Today it would probably not been regarded as anything but junk, but I was in cloud nine nevertheless.
By now it should be clear that I was heading towards a professional career as a photographer. But no, it didn’t even strike my mind. Instead I fancied an academic vocation. As the nature lover I was it was given that I went for natural science studies with biology for my master’s degree. The change, though, came during the master study. The before mentioned friend, who made me change to Ektachrome, and I were together doing research on the bear population in Western Norway. What seemed like a blow back then, turned out to be our lucky strike. One year we didn’t get founding for the research. We got so mad, both of us quit. We could have pulled it through, I am sure, but in a later perspective, it would have taken us years and years of work to compile enough material for a thesis. My friend moved to Denmark and became a renowned studio photographer there! While I, well, I was slowly starting to see a different course for myself as well.
Let me add that in the mean time other incidents had happened. Between high school and university I spend the whole summer working in an aluminium factory. I made a hell of a lot money – but of course the work itself was not exactly a dream. But I brought my camera into the dusty and polluted factory halls, and when I was done working there, I got a big story about the factory published in one a weekend addition to one of the major Norwegian newspaper. During my time at the university I worked as a photographer for a student paper and got other stories published in major papers as well. One, for instance, was about whale hunting. As a major in biology I was chosen to be an inspector onboard one of the whale hunting vessels during the early summer season, and it lead to several published stories.
Anyway, by the time me and my friend’s bear study crumbled other students friends of mine, studying media, had noticed my stories in the various magazines and papers. Some of them starting playing with the idea of establishing a news agency and asked me if I wanted to join. Eventually I did. In the end the agency went down without ever flying, I believe because we were young and naïve, and didn’t have enough contacts in the media world. But it set me going in the direction of journalism – more specifically photojournalism.
Would I have ended up here anyway? I don’t know. It’s still interesting to think what would have happened if things had happened in a different way. Again, would I have discovered photography at all if it hadn’t been for my friends? Or a professional vocation as a photojournalist?
Let me end here. And let me end with an apologue for my indulgence into myself. I guess it was a way for me to celebrate my 250th post with this blog. Thank you for your patience I might add.
I would love to hear how you got interested in photography. Do you think it was coincidental or would you have started photographing anyway at some point (well, who doesn’t photograph these days)?