Behind The Cover-Art: An Interview With Lars Mortensen
Following on from our release of Danish producer Nills’ debut EP, Downwards, we caught up with photographer Lars Mortensen, who helped develop the EP’s cover-art. With a strong interest in man-made, urban landscapes, Lars kindly took some time out to chat to us about his photographic methodology, his links with Nills and the publication of his upcoming book, In Search of Habitat.
Lars, please introduce yourself.
I’m a Danish architect and photographer, currently working as a Ph.D. fellow. Once upon a time I called myself a producer too; I was involved in the small but fun Danish jungle scene in the late 90s. However, I actually do maintain my scratching skills…
When did you first begin taking photographs and what sparked your interest?
The first release of German photographer Michael Wolf’s ‘Architecture of Density’, depicting the facades of Hong Kong social housing, completely blew me away. It was a beautiful depiction of architecture’s ‘dark side’ – not truly depressing or ruinous (it’s middle class housing, in fact), but extremely powerful visually. Wolf captured the most extreme realization of Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse in a way that made me aware of the power of the image, so to speak.
I was travelling in China myself in those years and met Dutch photographer Wouter Stelwagen in Chongqing by coincidence. When he mounted a Linhof Technika on his tripod I was like ‘what the f***…’. I had never seen a large format camera before (with bellows and all), but, being an architect, it is the only versatile camera system due to its inherent perspective correction capabilities. So, during endless and fun email correspondences, I was gradually taught the virtues (and pitfalls) of large format photography by Wouter – and eventually got my first large format camera in 2009. I’ve been working intensively with it since. It is slow, way too heavy and very fun.
Could you tell us a little more about your interest in the photography of urban landscapes and the new topographics movement?
Wouter Stelwagen introduced me to Bernd & Hilla Becher’s oeuvre and Andreas Gursky (and the rest of the so-called Düsseldorf School of Photography). The Bechers were also part of the New Topographics exhibition in Rochester in 1975, which is generally considered an important turn in landscape photography. To put it very briefly, the exhibition put the urban expansion and man-made landscapes of the post-war decades into an art context. Thus, the sprawl of the 60s, industrial structures and heavily transformed landscapes became the subject of landscape photography. It has been ‘mainstream’ for decades and you see it everywhere – the ‘German’ or ‘deadpan’ look. However, artists such as Bernd & Hilla Becher and Lewis Baltz are very influential to me with their compositional and methodical strictness. Artists such as Sze Tsung Leong, Bas Princen and Wouter are likewise (obviously) very influential to me too.
What draws you to a specific photographic subject?
Usually, I look for spatial and aesthetic qualities in places that, to most, stay under the radar. When travelling, I usually find subjects in the fringes of cities; places, where development is going on, where the city meets the outskirts and the landscapes. The last couple of years I’ve focused a lot on infrastructure, for example the inside of gas holders, freshwater reservoirs, the figures of spaghetti flyovers… trying to present the aesthetics of functional necessities, which is of course a very old theme and the interest of many ‘colleagues’.
You’ve developed the cover art for Nills’ debut EP Downwards. How and when did you first get to know each other?
We met through Danish producer, dj and promoter 2000F (of Hyperdub/Kraken etc.), who booked both of us for the Norberg Festival in Sweden in 2001. It was hilarious and quite stupid.
Do you see a link between your photographic work and your earlier work as a DJ and producer?
Not so much, actually. I tend to end up producing something jazzy (as in fluffy), whereas my photographic subjects would suggest something with much more steel and concrete. I would love to see a link – as in producing something with a more Surgeon-esque aesthetics – but I don’t really see it coming.
The Velvet Cell are set to publish your latest collection of work, titled In Search of Habitat. Can you tell us a bit more about this project – how you came up with it, what inspired you to choose this subject and what you have sought to convey in it?
I’ll try to be brief: In Search of Habitat explores the expansion of metropolitan India through two parallel narratives, a sequence of 45 photographs and an essay on urban planning and geography. Presenting the images of the fringes of cities alongside a description of the mechanisms propelling urban growth (and deterioration), I try to illuminate some of the often very contradictory urban processes and the built matter that is left by them. The project came about after travelling in China and witnessing the rapid and forceful urbanization. Like China, India has a long and vast cultural history, and I was interested to see if something ‘similar’ was happening in India’s burgeoning cities. It turned out to be very different.
When can we expect to see the finished book? And how do we get hold of a copy?
In the fall of 2015 – check www.thevelvetcell.com regularly!
What’s next for you? Have you any more projects planned following this one?
I hope to finish my infra/super/structure (working title) in a few years – still need to visit some more dams in the Alps and the inside of a certain water tower…
In Search of Habitat is now available from The Velvet Cell.