KT: How did you get into photography? When/what was your first encounter with photography?
MW: Photography has always been important in my family. My paternal grandfather was a pharmacist and a photography enthusiast, so much so that he had his own black & white lab over his pharmacy to indulge his passion. Being little, I always saw my father photograph. He is also the one who gave me my first camera.
At the age of 16, photography became an essential experience for me. It was necessary more than recreational. At that time of my adolescence, I had a deep-rooted need to express my emotions through images. Then it became obvious and I did more than that.
KT: You have published many books – “Foreign Affair” in 2011, “7 Days Athens” in 2011, “My Brother Guillaume and Sonia” in 2013, “Karaoke Sunne” in 2014, including the recent one : ”NATTEN”, published by Max Ström in 2017 which is a post-traumatic visual exploration and an honest attempt to celebrate the concept of LIFE. What do you like about the photographic medium in book format? You have collaborated with your partner JH Engstrom on a couple of book projects. What was the collaborative process between you and JH like (both personally and professionally)?
MW: First of all, I feel that I have really discovered photography through books more than exhibitions. For me, the photobook is one of the best ways to show photography. It’s a very personal opinion. I like the intimate aspect of the book, the object. Later, when I started doing my own books I loved the process. Make a selection, edit a sequence, find a rhythm, tell a story and find a shape to all that in the choice of paper, cover etc. There are a lot of details and decisions to take. It is very stimulating. The exhibitions are the same principle but more ephemeral, less intimate and more thought of as an installation than a narration.
I also had the chance to work with passionate editors and a graphic designer: Greger Ulf Nilson, who contributed a lot to my work. I think JH Engstrom has this same “love” for the photobook. We found ourselves agreeing on this point. Also, we like to work together because we are affected by the same things, even if our approach differs. We are a couple, so the collaboration is personal and professional. We founded a photo school together (Atelier Smedsby). Our working method is very enriching, everyone brings their ideas, we debate a lot and it becomes a real creative process.
KT: Your work is a powerful mix of diaristic approach and hard-hitting photos, ranging from the colourful portraits from “Karaoke Sunne” to your passionate journey in “Foreign Affair” to your intimate and personal work from your ‘NATTEN’ project. On what basis do you select your subjects? How do you decide to get so close to your subject?
MW: I have always had the impression that the subjects come to me more than I select them. I have an autobiographical approach, based on my emotions. My photographic work has always been, in one way or another, linked to my personal experiences with the goal of integrating it into more collective experiences. My creativity is expressed in my experience. It’s my only way of working right now. It wouldn’t feel right to do it any other way. Each project is therefore very “personal” but the subjects are universal: love, death, mourning, isolation. As I turn 40, I am working on a project related to my Pied-noir roots in Algeria. Although the trigger for this project is very personal, what drives me to go down there and to decide to do a photo project is, first of all, a strong curiosity for the other and for this country.
KT: Your last book project “NATTEN” is a heartfelt gesture to your brother’s slow and ultimate death. It consists of various elements like on the face images of dead animals birds, mice, frogs, snakes and stoats; black-and-white photos of ice formation which are in a semi-melting state, nude self-portraits set up against the Swedish landscape. What was the intent behind using the elements?
MW: This book, beyond the fact that it deals with my mourning, is also a homage to this very omnipresent nature where I lived and which had served me as an outlet. It is a natural habitat that is still very wild, cruel, fascinating. I did not want to define it with only a distant landscape. I had this need at this time to go into the elements, observe them with a magnifying glass, scrutinize them. This is why I used the scanner for the animals or the medium format in the macro for the ice. All these elements offered me the chance to reflect my state of mind, my emotions at that moment: the pure observation of my own state and of my surroundings. These elements I decided to use brought me back to a sense, to a form of reality, the banality of life and death and its beauty.
KT: In your description of your book project “NATTEN” you quoted, ” I used my body as a farewell song and the camera as a shield against the pain caused by the death of my Brother and his partner.” What was your emotional state while working on this project? What were the difficulties you faced during this project?
MW: After finishing my book “My Brother Guillame and Sonia” I felt completely empty, still deeply sad and haunted by death. Then I decided to start a new work NATTEN, the opposite of what I had done with my brother. It was ambiguous because I wanted something completely different and to make myself better by photographing. At the same time, I needed to immerse myself in this state of malaise. I used these contradictory emotions as a trigger to start Natten. Beyond that, the only difficulties I had was to find the best form for this state of mind. Natten was a long research process. I approached landscape photos and self-portraits in a different way from how I had done before. I tried many things for months that I was never happy with. Then winter came with its very short days and endless nights. My project then took another turn, the nights made me feel something and that’s when I finally found the key to the puzzle. I had found the form that came to express best what I was feeling. Then I was able to use this form for shooting in the day.
KT: What do you do you want to finally achieve with your raw and honest photographic language in your photography?
MW: Well, I haven’t thought about the end yet! For the moment, I’m only working on long-term projects. One after the other, as if I laid one stone after another of an endless sculpture!
At this moment, with my new project, I am thinking a lot about this notion of memory and how over the years and generations, a family memory, for example, is transformed. How is it transmitted, how is it sometimes fantasized? I see my photographic projects in this way; like little pieces of memory transformed and fantasized.