Jacob Aue Sobol – An Exclusive Interview
Lens Magazine|February 2020
Jacob Aue Sobol – An Exclusive Interview
Jacob Aue Sobol is known for his expressive style of black-and-white photography.
By José Jeuland. Content editing by Jasmin Sukari

Yakutsk, Siberia. 2016. From the books With And Without You and Road of Bones Copyrights to Jacob Aue Sobol © All rights reserved.

Tokyo, Japan. 2006. From the book I, Tokyo. Copyrights to Jacob Aue Sobol © All rights reserved.

Jacob Aue Sobol is known for his expressive style of black-and-white photography.

"My pictures are about being human for better or worse, he says. I cannot imagine dealing with other themes. It is the core of my pictures that they ask questions about our existence and that they speak to our inner feelings."

Sobol's photographs of Greenland, Guatemala and Tokyo had won him numerous awards. In 2006, Sobol moved to Tokyo and shot a series of images that won the 2008 Leica European Publishers Award. His series, “I, Tokyo”, was published by Actes Sud (France), Apeiron (Greece), Dewi Lewis Publishing (Great Britain), Edition Braus (Germany), Lunwerg Editores (Spain) and Peliti Associati (Italy).

Sobol became a nominee at Magnum photos in 2007 and is a full member since 2012. Following his time in Tokyo, Jacob worked extensively in Bangkok, which resulted in his 2016 book, “By the River of Kings”. was granted by The Danish Arts Foundation in 2016 and The Danish Arts Council.

Sobol had also worked in Denmark, Thailand, The United States of America, russia and China; his latest book, “With And Without You”, collects a selection of images made over his 20-year career to date.

On his website, “With And Without You” is described as a tribute to his father.

Since then, He has been working on some ongoing projects in Denmark (Home) and the in United States (America).

Yakutsk, Siberia. 2017. Copyrights to Jacob Aue Sobol © All rights reserved.

Tokyo, Japan. 2007. From the books I,Tokyo and With And Without You. Copyrights to Jacob Aue Sobol © All rights reserved.

Jacob Aue Sobol. Photo by Sara Zanella © All rights reserved

"My pictures are about being human for better or worse." - Jacob Aue Sobol

It is a great pleasure to publish an exclusive interview with one of the most impressive, unique fine art photographers, and to go deeply into his inner world, a private world of extraordinary creativity in extreme Black and White.

José Jeuland: Hello, Jacob, and thank you for this interview. Let's start from the beginning. Your education in photography began at the Danish European Film College and later on at Fatamorgana for Art Photography in Copenhagen. Would you say the studies of film photography influence your current style?

Jacob Aue Sobol: When I was at school at Fatamorgana, each week, we had a new guest teacher, and I would try different things. I was almost a complete beginner, and my pictures would change basically every week. It was only when I finished school and moved to Greenland that I was challenged to find myself and my own language.

I basically arrived there as a documentary photographer or a traditional photojournalist – using a big camera, looking for dramatic moments, finding classically intense compositions, etc.

But then, when I was with my girlfriend at the time, Sabine, I started photographing using my pocket camera as a way to preserve moments with her and pieces of my life there that I felt close to, and I arrived at a way of working that was much more free and spontaneous. If there has been a common thread in my photographs since then, it is this same search for love and for a human connection that compelled me to start retaking pictures in Greenland.

Tiniteqilaaq, Greenland, 2000. From the book Sabine. Copyrights to Jacob Aue Sobol © All rights reserved.

J.J.: Your work is very emotional. It can be described as rough and deep, trying to express intimate moments of humanity. How did you develop, or should we say, enchance your style over the years?

J.A.S.: Through a lot of my projects, I feel as if I basically remained the same person. But there have been periods of transition. After I left Greenland, I was challenged to work in a new way – I was no longer photographing my girlfriend or people I lived with, but strangers I was meeting on the street. This felt strange at first and took a long time to adjust to, but mostly, as I've said, I continued chasing the same thing in all my subsequent work – being in love or finding love in others has been my way of survival and of finding meaning in existence.

J.J.: Did other photographers influence you?

J.A.S.: Yes; for starters, there are my mother and grandfather, who were both professional photographers as well. My studio is now in my grandfather's old farmhouse in the Danish countryside, and we've found thousands of his negatives in the attic here; in a way, I'm continuing to live out his vision of using this place as a space for creating photography. We had recently converted his old horse stable into a darkroom.

J.J.: Back in the past, you said: It is when pictures are unconsidered and irrational that they come to life; that they evolve from showing to being. Would you say you are not trying to tell a story but to take pieces of life, focusing more attention on the visual result?

J.A.S.: I would say it's true that I'm not trying to tell a story insofar as I don't believe my pictures have a meaning, or that they exist to take you from point A to point B through a narrative. My photographs exist to be felt, to convey a sense of shared emotion and the commonality at the core of each of our existence.

J.J.: Tell us about your intimacy with your figures. Do you spend time with a person before the shooting in order to get into the right intimate atmosphere?

J.A.S.: It depends. With Sabine, the project was about her and her family and my life in Greenland. I lived there for two years, and initially, I didn't take any photographs at all – I wanted to live the life of a hunter. Coming back home with a seal was much more important than coming back with a good photograph. Gradually I became more a part of the village, and then I started photographing again when it felt innocent and natural.

Tiniteqilaaq, Greenland, 2000. From the books Sabine and With And Without You Copyrights to Jacob Aue Sobol © All rights reserved.

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February 2020