LINE S├śNDERGAARD. SOMETHING ON ITS OWN
by Eline Benjaminsen


Hi Line. Recently you’ve received prestigious international prizes and attention for your project ‘Time to Rest’ about truck drivers in Norway, including an Honorable Mention from the NPPA and Honorable Merit in Picture of the Year International. Congratulations! How did this project take form?

| urbanautica Scandinavia (LS): When studying photojournalism you get very aware that you shouldn’t have any prejudices or be biased in any way. I see myself, in all modesty, as a generally un-bigoted person. It started with curiosity around truck drivers and the fact that although I didn’t know any of them personally, I had certain ideas around what characteristics they have. I started asking others what they thought about truck drivers, and discovered that they also had very concrete ideas. They were said to be big, scary, had bad diets, ostentatious… People described the drivers like the trucks, basically. I thought this was very interesting. If you google ‘truck driver’ everything that comes up are negative articles about road accidents and law breaking. All the “bad things”.  

Then I started reading about the laws that they have to relate to. In Norway you’ll see trucks standing the weirdest of places. That made me curious. They are bound by strict regulations around when they can drive and when they can rest, meaning that many places they have to stop are not secure for the load they are transporting. This makes them vulnerable. The rate of truck robberies happening during resting time is increasing. The rules are also making it difficult for them to come together. They get very lonely. I wanted to find out who chooses a life like this.

 
© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Time to Rest’

I drove constantly for three weeks, and then I had some trips later on when I had the time. So I’d drive around looking for trucks in the landscape, and then when the night fell I’d look for the ones who were resting. I worked without any appointments. So I’d knock on the door of the trucks and ask if I could sleep there that night. There is something about stepping into somebody’s’ private space without having had any appointment beforehand. Nobody could tidy their place, as they often do when they are getting a photographer over. I practically stepped into the condition they existed in there and then. 

Another thing is the influence of the nighttime. The things one talks about at day time are often very concrete, more practical and trivial… at night it takes much less time to reach a point were you are talking about things like seeing your wife only once a week, and that if you start counting you haven’t seen your four kids for much of their lives. Conversation becomes a totally different thing in the nighttime.

The reason why I decided to do the intimate sleeping portraits was the effect that seeing somebody sleeping has on people. I think everybody get this sort of caring instinct from seeing others sleep. When sleeping we become fragile, naked. I thought that if I can make a series that will make people want to hug truck drivers, then it’s a healthy counterbalance to the obvious associations and stereotyping.


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Time to Rest’ 

The way you present the project is a pretty new way of showing photography, as an interactive online publication. What made you decide to present it that way? Did you present it in other formats too? 

LS: No. That project is meant to be published in that format. Only a small part of it has been published in a newspaper.

I think many photographers see books as the ideal platform for their projects. Do you see that as something romantic or outdated?

LS: The idea of photography books is absolutely romantic! I love photography books and own many myself. Photography is great in the format of books. It’s not that one thing eliminates the other, that because I make online publications I’m uninterested in books. But I’m not even finished with my studies yet. To make a book is something you do when you’ve had a 15 year long career, isn’t it? When you’ve reached a point where you have stability in what you do. Every day I feel that I discover something new that makes me distance myself from what I made the day before. Which I’ll hopefully have the rest of my life, or I think I’ll become very boring. But the idea of a book… I believe that’s something you do when you’ve made something really legit.


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Time to Rest’

What do you think about photography in the age of digitalization? 

LS: I think it’s really exciting! It’s liberating to be able to choose how to present each story, and what instruments in combination you want to use. I want to keep making one-pages like the one for ‘Time to Rest’, and I’d like to work on making them together with others who have competence in different fields than me.

It also creates new audiences. As mentioned, ‘Time to Rest’ was published in a newspaper too. From that I noticed that I got responses from a totally different group of people than from the online publication that is accessible for everybody free of charge. What’s great about making digital publications is that you get in touch with a new audience.

Tell us about your approach to photography. How did it all start out?

LS: I haven’t actually photographed for that long – my original practice was film and TV documentaries. Usually people tend to start doing still photography and then turn to moving image, I did the opposite.

I don’t remember having any brilliant poetic revelation that I was going to become a photographer. But I remember that I lied a lot when I was a kid. I loved telling stories and since I didn’t experience new things every day, I’d make things up. As I grew older I realized that the real world was way more interesting than what my own limited imagination could produce – and I turned to documentary.

The best part was getting people interested in what I had to tell. Why I started doing film in the first place had to do with that need to tell stories. But after a while I noticed that I was forcing everything into the format of film, and that maybe not all stories suited that format. And then I started thinking it was unfair that because I knew how to tell stories in video, reality had to adjust to that limited tool kit. That’s why I decided to study photojournalism, so that I would learn tools that would allow me to decide what visual format best suited each story. 


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Womandatory Conscription’


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Womandatory Conscription’

Since then I’ve become more and more seduced by photography. Before I started studying photojournalism at the University College in Oslo, I had a very practical way of seeing visual storytelling. I’ve later understood that a photograph can be something on its own, that it’s not always about a concrete story; that it can evoke moods and emotions.

I saw some short videos that you made where you mixed video and stills.

LS: Yes, that was a sort of a phase I went through where I was trying to combine the two. But I always have it that whatever I made half a year ago I think is outdated because I’ve made progress in-between and therefore I don’t recognize myself in it anymore. Nowadays I don’t mix moving and still image, as I see that I have to settle for one or the other or none will be good. It’s a challenge to find a way where you can keep the integrity of all the tools the same time. To me it’s not only to turn the button on the camera to video modus and back, it’s a totally different mindset altogether.

You’re about to graduate from your studies in photojournalism at the University College in Oslo. Can you tell us about the study?

LS: First of all the classes are pretty small which I think is vital for the functionality of the study. I think photography is such a personal subject; it’s about what you feel, what you think and what you yourself see. Therefore it’s crucial to be comfortable with the study environment. I think if I were one out of a huge group, I would receive much more general feed back. What has been so great about this education is that you are able to really get to know each teacher. They have the time and capacity to get to know the students individually, and are good at pointing out factors in my process that I don’t myself notice.

Have there been any teachers that have influenced how you see your work in particular?  

LS: I used to become way too attached to my subjects, sometimes becoming more concerned about being with them than to photograph. During the making of the project ‘Time to Rest’ last year I had a teacher, Jon Petter Evensen, who was extremely good at seeing not only what I knew and did well, but also where I have a tendency to get stuck and how he could push me to feel freer to achieve something different than what I’d made before. When I had this idea about truck drivers, he advised me not to do what I’d always done up until then, which was to live with people for a long period of time. Instead he advised me to drive my own car, stop, go in and leave again - not to work on the premises of others. That project developed to be what it is because of this advice.


© Line Søndergaard form the series ‘Return to Sender’


© Line Søndergaard form the series ‘Return to Sender’ 

What would be the ideal working situation for you? Any plans for the future?

LS: I have to confine to reality as it is, and there aren’t many jobs for photographers anymore. One thing I learned from working at the newspaper was that I need to be surrounded by competent people who can give me feedback, and vice versa. I can fool around in my own head and my own camera and my own little world, and try to figure out what photographer I want to become, how I want to work and which methods to use, but I can get so blind on my own work. I need people to agree and disagree with, people I can’t understand and those I fully relate to. Some people are good at working alone, but I’m not.

So to talk about the future, I think I’ll need to create that environment myself, since I probably won’t get that from anywhere else. I want to collect all those that I’ve clashed with in one way or another! I think this is important for more people than me, to create our own community that can give the same type of support as an editorial team. I you can develop yourself as a photographer alone, but that we are only able to develop photography as a subject together.

That makes a lot of sense. Do you imagine an official creative collective or an informal group of people who meet from time to time to discuss work?

LS: I don’t have any visions of fancy names or anything. Nor ambitions to make it anything else than to have a few good colleagues that I can exist in the same room with. It’s more about being able to work together with people, although you’re always busy doing your own stuff.

To find a balance between fast assignments and long lasting projects, that’s the ideal situation for me. Although I think you will have a hard time finding photography students that wouldn’t say the same.

How would you like your photography to be read? In other words, what do you hope to achieve?

LS: Oh, the big questions… at one point or another during your life you think that it would be possible to change the world. I grew up thinking not that I would be able to change the world but that I had to do it! This is an idealist mindset that I ridicule; yet I absolutely stand for it. You have to! Because if I didn’t, what would be the point of making anything if I didn’t hope that it would influence in one way or another?

I don’t believe that one photograph can change anything. However, when looking at photography, it doesn’t always go through the head first, sometimes it can go straight ‘in’. And I think that if I can touch one other person a tiny little bit, it can start a process. Maybe this one person will be able to touch three others and suddenly there are four people who have had new thoughts that they didn’t have yesterday.

 


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Det Gylden Landet’


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Det Gylden Landet’

Like the butterfly effect?

LS: Yes, I think it needs to come down to that level for it to be something I can believe in. Another thing about photography is that it’s universal. I can get as much out of photography as any dement grandpa can. It will mean something else for him than for me, but none of us will feel alienated by it. 

Photography is concrete and open at the same time. That’s what’s so lovely about it.

Are there any themes or subjects that you see recurring in your work?

LS: I don’t really have any specific themes, but I come across things I don’t really understand, and then I try to photograph them. But if I look back at these three years at school, I suppose I’ve photographed a lot of older men. I have no clue what that is all about, and I don’t think I want to know neither. I think my next project needs to be about 14 year old girls, because I’m very afraid of them - definitely much more than of truck drivers!

I generally photograph things I don’t know too much about. Nowadays I even try not to do too much research before I go photographing, because I’ve noticed that if I bring too many “cheating notes” I can get blocked by what I already know instead of fully being in the situation. It’s a challenge to learn so much about a subject that I’m able to put myself in the right situation, and then having to tell myself to forget everything I know not to get blocked while I’m there!


© Line Søndergaard from the series ‘Time to Rest’

Do you have any preferences around cameras and equipment?

LS: At the moment I use three cameras: a Canon mark III, my grandpa’s Rolleiflex and an Olympus. When it comes to equipment, I like to use cameras that I know so well that I won’t have to think about how I’m using them. But it’s also great to use cameras that I really don’t know, because the confusion of that makes me stop overthinking the composition and lighting, which I regularly do and which can be very boring. I recently put an almost black filter on my camera so I wouldn’t see through it when I photographed, to see if I would be able to shoot pictures that would be less of a direct translation than of ‘this is what I’ve seen and thought’. I took some really great photos before I knew how to photograph. Now it sometimes has the tendency to get a bit too pretty and “correct”.

What are your three favorite photography books?

LS: ‘Southbound’ by Knut Egil Wang: iIt’s unbelievably beautifully made. ‘Fat Baby’ by Eugene Richards: one of the first photo books I owned and one I often return to.  ‘Amazonas’ by Mads Nissen: sensitive in the way it’s edited.

What photographers and artists have inspired you?

LS: Of photographers it would be Antoine D'Agata, Alec Soth and James Nachtwey, the fabulous women Lynsey Addario, Nan Goldin, Sally Man, and Mary Ellen Mark. Others are Edward Hopper, Roy Anderson and Wong Kar-Wai. 

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LINKS 
Line Søndergaard 
Norway