The strange, beautiful world of Torbjørn Rødland

Inspired by faded memories, photographer Torbjørn Rødland evokes subtle misrepresentations of the past in his new monograph Confabulations. In characteristic style, the Los Angeles-based, Norwegian-born photographer’s images are often cloaked in unease – take the photograph of fingers wrapped around ice skate blades. But Rødland’s photos are also pervaded by a baffling sense of the unexpected – be it the dentures stuck into a half-eaten cinnamon roll, or a girl peeling a piece of skin off her nipple. “It’s very intuitive,” Rødland says of his creative process, adding “recurring themes show up organically, I don’t have to script them.”.

Marking the 10th anniversary of Rødland’s collaboration with MACK publishing, the book is titled after the psychiatric term for the fabrication of distorted memories of oneself and the world. If one thing is clear, it’s that Rødland is determined to challenge our perception of the world around us – as uncomfortable as that might be. Throughout it all, the photographer guides us along, with his blend of warm Californian tones and sleek Nordic aesthetics, inviting us into his strange, beautiful world.

What’s the inspiration behind Confabulations and when did you first start working on the project?

Oh, I work continuously. Roughly a year ago I wondered if I had the right amount of fresh photographs for a new book. And it turned out that I had. The oldest picture included I believe is from 2003. I love to include a few images from the archive in an updated context. A lot of the photographs included are made in my West Hollywood studio in the last couple of years.

Is there a message are you hoping to get across with your book?

Well, if I had a clear message to spell out I wouldn’t have to make pictures. Confabulations contributes to pushing photography beyond the restrictions of conceptual art without turning to nostalgia. This is not idea driven image-making. Added to the sensitivities and self-reflexivity of postmodern art is a sense of interiority and lyricism. This is religion-as-sexuality.

I read that you allowed the concept of memory distortion to guide you through your editing. How would you describe your creative process?

It’s very intuitive. I look at rough thumbnails in a folder and throw out the ones that don’t fit with the majority. This is also how the book finds its topics. The themes grow from the photographs I’ve actually made – the ones I stay interested in – in the time that has passed since the previous collection of new work. Recurring themes show up organically, I don’t have to script them.

Some photographs have clear connections with one another, while others are unexpected. If you were to find a storyline in your book, what would it be?

It’s up to the individual viewer to activate their experiences, dreams and picture memories to find their way through the book. The symbolism or meaning of each photograph is fluid and adaptable like illustrations in a Tarot deck. The same card takes on different meanings in different contexts addressing different people.

As a Nordic creative working in the States, how does living in LA affect your work and, vice versa, how do your Norwegian roots have an influence on it as well?

Many of the images I grew up with were American. I’ve found that in order to understand what I’m doing photographically I need to study the image traditions of Scandinavia, Japan and the US. I spend one quarter of every year in Norway still. Here in southern California I find a wider variety of characters that resonate with me, but fewer truly emotional landscapes compared with Norway.

Confabulations is published by MACK.

Torbjørn Rödland’s work is currently on show in Oslo until September 3, as part of the exhibition SNAP, at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Norway. The exhibition presents more than 100 photographs by 30 Norwegian and international photographers.

Continue reading in Oak volume Six