Interviews with the PDN 30: Andrea Gjestvang
Andrea Gjestvang was recently inducted into PDN's 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch. She is a documentary photographer who hails from Europe. Andrea records the mannerisms of different types of people that try to resist change, and delves into various social issues and cultural differences.
Beyond this, though, her work has been in various magazines. We were able to take some time to talk to Andrea about her work, and what it's like to photograph her subjects.
B&H: What are some of the common preparation rituals that you do before you undertake a new documentary project?
Andrea: I am doing a lot of fact-based research, using my journalistic skills to go through statistics, reports, news articles, etc. Then I study the history of the place, culture, local art, novels, films relating to the topic or place, just for inspiration. I use the local library a lot because they often have a local archive. Maybe the information I get is not directly useful, but it helps me understand the place and the people, and can give me references that might influence the way I shoot.
B&H: What type of preparation do you do before starting a new story? How much time do you spend with your subjects before you start photographing them?
Andrea: I often spend a lot of time hanging out with people, to make them feel comfortable with my being around with my camera. I try to build a relationship. Sometimes it is not possible, of course, but I’m always very open about who I am and what I am doing, which makes people relax.
B&H: Your projects ("Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" and "Disappearing Ice Age") document the lifestyle and culture of people in remote regions of Norway and Greenland, respectively. What draws you to these regions and stories?
Andrea: I am fascinated by the persistence of people living in harsh and inaccessible environments.The communities in the Arctic are in a sort of vacuum, where the safe and established disappear, without being replaced by something new. I am curious to explore this vacuum. At the same time, these will be key areas in the future, with oil and mineral resources being discovered. Life is changing, and it must be documented.
On a more personal level, these places just do something to me—the beauty and the wild, lonely nature environments; societies and places somehow familiar to me through my Norwegian heritage, yet very different from the life I know.
B&H: Do you keep up with the people that you’ve photographed?
Andrea: It depends on the nature of the project and the relationship, but I often keep in touch with people if they want to. I send pictures, and we communicate on facebook. Especially when photographing young people over a longer period, you want to give something back. When working on projects, the boundaries between personal and professional relationships are blurring, and I like that.
B&H: Your work features a mix of candid photographs and environmental portraits. Which do you find more challenging, and do you find it difficult to navigate between the two styles?
Andrea: In my last project, "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," I tried to combine portraits and the more-classic reportage pictures. I like to mix them—it makes the whole more dynamic. I never arrange reportage photos, but with the portraits I can say "Stop!," and create my own picture within the environments where the story is taking place. So the navigation comes naturally. Portraits are more challenging, to create a variation of interesting and surprising images without losing that which is most important—the person you portray.
B&H: You’re a busy working photographer. How do you think being named a PDN 30 will impact your career?
Andrea: It makes more people see my work, which I think will give me the chance to reach out to a broader audience with new projects and new work. Of course, it is also a great recognition which makes me believe I did the right thing when focusing on my own projects and my own vision, instead of only doing assignments and work for others. I will continue working hard, and I hope the PDN 30 will extend my network of clients and collaborators.
B&H: Do you have any interesting projects on the horizon?
Andrea: I am in the middle of a new project called "One Day in History." It is a series of portraits of youths who survived the terror attack on the summer camp on the island of Utøya, outside Oslo, on July 22nd of last year. Sixty-nine youths were killed, and around six hundred survived, of whom many struggle to handle the return to everyday life. So I am travelling all over Norway to portray the youths in their everyday environments. I am shooting film and 4x5, a very different and interesting process, since I am used to shooting digital. The project will be a book coming out in October.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo Video Pro Audio