Kjetil Karlsen, a photographer whose work emanates from his northern Norwegian soul, captures the essence of nature’s influence on human emotions and the collective human experience. While deeply rooted in his northern heritage, Karlsen’s photographs convey a universal narrative that resonates with viewers, transcending cultural boundaries.
Where the contrasting elements of nature abound, Karlsen witnesses the transformative power of each season. From the resounding awakening of spring, which metamorphoses a cold and white world into a sensuous and serene crescendo, to the ethereal summer fading into autumn’s quiet slumber, and the occasional transformation into a sterile white expanse where darkness reigns for 24 hours a day, these rhythms of life profoundly impact human emotions, intertwining us with the natural world.
Karlsen employs a diverse range of photographic techniques, encompassing both analogue (120mm and 35mm film) and digital formats. With an unwavering commitment to authenticity, he eschews artificial lighting, relying on natural illumination to capture his subjects. Employing self-imposed guidelines that demand patience, Karlsen adds an additional layer to his images through the use of physical filters, carefully chosen to complement each location. These filters, which can take the form of textiles, feathers, transparent plastic, dry grass, or various plants, contribute an element of depth and imagination to his compositions. Through deliberate exposure techniques such as long shutter speeds with movement and double-triple exposures, Karlsen accentuates the emotional impact of his photographs.
Karlsen’s creative process draws inspiration from the profound well of human emotions, exploring themes of vulnerability and the inherent connection between individuals and their natural surroundings. His interactions with people, the captivating nature that envelops him, the sensuous, music, and art at large all serve as wellsprings of creativity.
While Karlsen’s work has largely been a personal endeavor, undertaken for his own visual satisfaction, he has received numerous requests and invitations for exhibitions. Some notable showcases include “Mystikk” at Galleri Nord and “Vandring” at Museum Nord in Norway, “Tire la chevillette, la bobinette cherra” at Galerie Hors-Champ and “Un Secret” at Galerie Horst-Champs in Paris, France, and “Tiden det tar” at Gallery TID and Gallery My in Norway. Further expanding his artistic reach, Karlsen has also contributed cover art and produced music videos for artists worldwide.
As Karlsen’s artistic journey continues to unfold, he remains dedicated to capturing the profound beauty, fragility, and interconnectedness of our shared human and natural experiences.
Where are you from, where are you based now and can you tell us a little about both?
I have my base between high mountains and at the end of a fjord, called Beisfjord, in the Narvik municipality in northern Norway. I was born here. I have moved around a bit and always returned.
Your photography seems to be heavily influenced by the nature and environment around you. Can you talk more about how your Northern Norwegian roots and the surrounding landscape have influenced your work?
My entire family tree has deep roots here in the north and I have lived close to and experienced many, many generations before me with grandparents and great-grandparents. They lived from what nature provided and had a lifestyle that was governed by nature. I have always felt a close affinity with nature and the landscape I live in. Respect for nature, myths and the sensual was learned early on and whenever I became aware of this, it is impossible for me to live without it. In my work, human emotions and nature are always present.
Someone who has become more up-to-date as I learn from what us humans withdraw from it. It removes us from it emotionally and only becomes concerned with the external. What is seen and thus also reflects how we humans are generally concerned. Facade… Where we want to show the spectacular but it is only the image itself that is the driving force. We have lost something along the way, and I feel sorry for those who are left with what nature can provide, in the deepest sense.
You mention that you use physical filters in your photography. How do you decide what elements to use, and how do you think these filters contribute to the final product?
When I get to the area I’m going to photograph in, I often take my time. I wander around a bit to find something tied to the place. More often than not, I find something that I’m really passionate about using. Then I try to put the filters together with the object. An example could be that if I photograph a cabin, it would be perfect to expose through something that belongs to the cabin. Whatever. If I work with emotions, nudity and nature, I have often ended up with filters that I associate with these elements. Feathers, hair, wet glass (tears) and also textiles. If I am at home with a person and this person smokes, streaks of smoke from this person would act as a physical filter.
Many times no one but myself sees this extra element. But it is important anyway, because I feel that this little extra in its entirety means a lot to me and the effect in the picture. Often it clears space, so that the meaning comes across more clearly and strongly.
Your work has been exhibited in various galleries and museums. How do you feel about sharing your art with others, and what message do you hope to convey through your photography?
It’s nice that the pictures are seen, even if that was never really the motivation. I started by creating images for myself and only for myself. But as the world got smaller, the images also became visible, and so things have become as they have become. The only thing I want is for something to be so gripped that they have to stop, maybe be knocked a little off course, have to do some honest reflections and come into contact with something inside themselves that makes a change in their life. The images must be felt, otherwise there is no meaning in it.
You mention that your sources of inspiration include human emotions, vulnerability, and music. How do these elements influence your photography, and how do you translate them into visual art?
I have often used my own feelings to transfer them to the picture. For me, it will be very effective and not least honest. When I myself have experienced mental stress or fear, I have used these feelings immediately in a creative process and created images. Otherwise, the images contain the human emotions we all have inside us, whether we play it or not. Always with a darkness, or a melancholy at the bottom. Because, even if many people don’t want to deal with these feelings, they are just as strong as happiness and joy. In the music I find all these elements. And it is in music with the big emotions that I always return to. Being present, in the feelings when the picture is made, is important. Many times I am completely done with the image when it is made. So finished that when something demands that particular picture, I dread trying to bring it into the light again.
Your work includes both analog and digital photography. How do you decide which medium to use for a particular project, and how do the different mediums affect the final result?
It has a bit to do with time. There is something solid about the analogue. Which image means more and is thoroughly worked out gets the exposure itself. It is possible that I am a bit stuck in the past, but film is something special and for me always will be. I used to work a lot in the darkroom, but have completely stopped doing that now. Then there are some cameras and film types that I have always used, and that I love the tones and mood of.
Your photography often explores the idea of the natural rhythm of life and how it affects human emotions. Can you talk more about how you approach this concept in your work and what you hope to communicate through it?
By moving away from nature and the natural, I believe that we as humans lose much that we have related to for centuries. We as a species have taken over the very definition of what defines us. What is natural to feel, and who decides that it is not silly, but sick. I could write a book about this topic, but one example is that I firmly believe that psychological symptoms are proof of health, not illness. Why? For the simple reason that these symptoms occur as a result of an enormous emotional burden, a humiliation, a trauma. When these symptoms are felt, it is a confirmation that one is responding healthily to the strain that the individual has experienced.
But the rhythm of nature here in the north affects and has always affected us to a great extent. The contrasts are so great and everything is so powerful that it is impossible to distance oneself from the surroundings, nature. From short explosive summers, like sensual earthquakes where the sun shines 24 hours a day, to complete silence, cold and darkness, darkness reigns 24 hours a day. Our minds are largely in sync with this alternation, but for many, the dark time turns back into the bright season. Something that is the way it is, and in many of my pictures is symbolized by creatures of the dark and melancholic.
It’s not sick to feel. It is natural to feel. And crying is in all of us, like laughter’s sister. It is given to us by nature because it has a function.
Nature embraces, comforts and makes few demands in return. It has the will to draw us out of ourselves and into the sensual, completely cleansed of what should not be there. Nature can act as a cathedral or a place to simply seek silence and meet with yourself. Nature heals.
You mention that you have never taken the initiative for exhibitions or sales of your works. Can you explain why this is, and what made you decide to accept some of the invitations you received?
As I said, my starting point for my work is that I made it, only for my eyes. The fact that they were shown is a water of mine that should have the credit. Because he was the one who started publishing my photos on social media, before I had it myself. That’s where it started, and I eventually discovered that the themes I was concerned with in my works struck a chord with many people and made a difference to their lives. To me, that’s the whole point. Especially at the exhibition, I feel that it will be strong. Large images in shades of grey, which come very close and from which it becomes difficult to distance oneself. There are big meaningful moments.
I’m bad at marketing and strategy and really see all the attention around an exhibit as a slightly annoying side effect to create. However, I have eventually learned to appreciate it too. The meeting with the people and their experiences are also important for gaining a greater understanding of the whole. The universal.
I consider all offers I receive, and often accept invitations as long as they do not conflict with other projects. For the year, I have two exhibitions that have been scheduled from the autumn. Otherwise, I have plans for several collaborative projects with other artists. Photographers, but also artists who use other art forms and expressions.
I also create cover art for artists worldwide. Since I listen to a lot of music and value it highly, I like collaborations. I think the combination of images/music is strong, and one reinforces the feelings of the other. Both ways.
I have always wanted to publish a book. Text in combination with my pictures. But since I’m also lacking in initiative towards publishers there, I expect it to be quiet, unless someone makes a request at one point or another.
Where can we find you online?