Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Joi oh Joi

Johannes Kjartansson (above) is a photographer from Reykjavik. Interview and images here

-Can I ask what equipment you use?

I mainly use a Yashica T4/T5 but otherwise I just use any autofocus snapshot camera I can get my hands on. For professional assignments I use a Contax G2. I never use any lights, tripods or such equipments since I'm more into capturing the moment, in a flash, with a flash.

-What influences you to take photographs?

I studied graphic design and have a B.A. degree in that from the Iceland Academy of the Arts. I was always taking pictures alongside my studies. I started shooting film in my first year and gradually started to get much better response to my pictures than my design work. I have always been an avid reader of magazines such as i-D, Dazed & Confused and Purple to name a few. The style found there has always had a huge influence on me. I also really like to go to museums and galleries, which is one of the main reason I moved to New York. It's a melting pot of ideas and influences.

-You're connected with Landon Metz's Company of People - how did that come about?

Friends of mine, Jeremy Liebman and Victoria Hely-Hutchinson who are both great photographers introduced me to Landon and Hannah Metz on their Brooklyn rooftop the other day. The Company of People is a very nice concept. Sort of like tinyvices.com which I also like a lot.

-Your photos that were featured in Vice last December are pretty much all very gorgeous girls from Iceland - are Icelandic girls always like this?

I was a bit worried about that assignment, since it was supposed to supplement poetry by Eileen Myles about Iceland, and she's quite controversial. But the poetry was excellent and I really liked it. The girls are mostly my girlfriends having fun. When girls are having genuine fun they tend to look pretty gorgeous. There is a saying that the vikings used to steal all the beautiful girls from Ireland and Scandinavia and bring them back to Iceland. So Icelanders tend to think their women are the most beautiful in the world. I don't necessarily agree with that. I just think there is a wide variety of different looks in Iceland. What I find beautiful isn't always what the general public agrees on. But a smile is always beautiful and I guess that's what I was going for with these pictures. They are from a series I made called The Bank of Fun.

-In an interview with Prestigium-Studio you said Iceland was 'bankrupt country' - it's coming up to a year since it's economic collapse - how are people like yourself, artists, coping?

Most people think that artists flourish when times are really bad. Beethoven, Mozart and Paul Klee and all those guys made some of their best works when they had it pretty shitty. My favorite quote is from a song by Fleetwood Mac: "Thunder only happens when it's raining". Icelandic artists had a pretty luxurious time until October 2008. Bankers were sponsoring art exhibitions like madmen and everybody had 2-3 jobs to pay for the standard lifestyle. Now a lot of spaces are empty and people are losing their jobs. If that doesn't push people into doing something creative, I don't know what will. As for me, I'm just trying to live in New York with my hard earned Kronas (ISK) which is the Icelandic currency. It has lost 100% of it's value so what I'm striving for now is to earn some dollars instead. Fingers crossed.

-Your photos tend to have the focus on one object in centre of the picture, a car or a person for example, with little else going on around it - is this how you prefer photos to look like?

That's an interesting question. That is sort of my shooting style. I don't like to have to much clutter around my subjects. I tend to go up close and be in people's faces. I'm quite tall so I have to twist and turn myself to shoot people at eye-level. People have often made fun of my shooting style since I get myself into the most ridiculous poses and tend to be quite aggressive. Especially when I'm intoxicated. If not I'm more shy and it's harder for me to approach my subjects. That's something I'm working on.

-You feature a very social and inebriated side of Reykavik in your photographs - how is the city for its nightlife?

Reykjavík has a pretty small but crazy nightlife scene. We don't have any clubs, so coffee-shops turn into bars and clubs during weekends. People don't go out that much during weekdays so they tend to save up all their energy and blast it all out during friday and saturday. Usually people stay at home drinking until 1 o'clock and then go out, mostly because of the over-the-top drink prices. Bars are open until 5 o'clock in the night and during summer it's quite popular to go to after-parties that tend to last until dawn. But actually in the summertime there is no dawn. It's bright outside 24/7 so when you get out of bars it feels like it's daytime. We don't have a very good habit of dating like Americans do. People usually get wasted, go home together, have sex, and then decide if they want to meet again. I guess that has given us a pretty promiscuous reputation. The nightlife is crazy but fun.. if you think you've got what it takes. answer.

-What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

I'm planning on staying in New York for the summer, and hopefully get a Visa to stay for a couple of years. I really like living in Iceland but there's only so-and-so much you can do there. During winter it can be really depressing working in the constant darkness and mountains of snow. It's also pretty limiting for a photographer. I'd like to see the world and photograph as much as I can. And New York feels like a good starting point.

Joi can be found online at www.joi.is.com