Photos courtesy of Anders Edstrom
Text and interview by Alec Coiro
If you ever made an aesthetic decision in the ‘90s, Anders Edstrom influenced it. Teaming up with Olivier Zahm, Anders took the talent he’d honed working with Martin Margiela and joined the now legendary Purple Magazine. Since Purple, he has worked on several films and moved to Japan, which has become the new subject of his unique form of photography. He sat down with us to discuss his past and future projects to help give us an idea of what makes his work so unique.
Can you tell us about your time at Purple? What was it like back then. And how did the experience shape your current work?
I met Olivier Zahm one day when I was taking some pictures for Martin Margiela. He said he’d been watching me for a while and that he liked the way I approached the models. I just let them stand and talk to each other and moved around them. It’s the way I’ve always liked to take pictures. I let things happen by themselves. So this is how I met Olivier and soon after Elein Fleiss. They asked if I wanted to document the installing of L´Hiver de l’Amour, a show they curated together with artists connected to Purple Prose at Musée de l’Art Moderne in Paris. It was nice to be a part of it and to get to know this group of people. They let me take pictures the way I wanted, so I could try different ideas. It gave me a lot of practice.
What was it like shifting from photography to the related medium of film?
When I was twenty one I sometimes worked in the weekend for the local newspaper. They sent me out to photograph all sorts of things. A lot of times I had to photograph division two football matches. It was very hard to get a good picture with action. Partly because I was inexperienced as a photographer and had never been that interested in football but also because the level of play wasn’t that good. So my football pictures were quite far away and not eventful. Later on I got inspired by those pictures. My pictures became moments between moments. Uneventful.
I never thought I’d make films. I didn’t think I’d be able to get that feeling in moving images. But I met C.W. Winter in ’98, and he convinced me that as long as one thinks about what to do in relation to the medium one is working in, the same effect could be achieved. He asked me to collaborate with him on a couple of short fashion films. The idea was for me to do a fashion shoot but on film and someone else was going to operate the camera. Two days before the shoot I started to panic. How was I going to explain to a camera operator how I like to frame a picture? I wouldn’t be able to explain that in words. It’s very intuitive. So we decided that it would be better if I filmed it. I realised it’s similar to pictures. It’s a matter of composition. Film is really interesting because of the sound and movement. Several other things have to be considered when it comes to the editing.
Do you think the sort of suspense you created in your film Anchorage relates to tensions that exist in your photography?
Yes, I think so. Curtis writes the scripts and when doing so, he takes my pictures into consideration. He thinks a lot about what would be natural for me to photograph so that I can feel free when filming. We have very similar taste and interests in things. This makes it natural for us to collaborate.
What was the inspiration for Keiko Maeda in Kyoto?
It was a commission by Cosmic Wonder. They needed pictures of their clothes and they wanted it to be shot in Kyoto.
I suggested to use Yukinori’s (the designer’s) mother as the model. She was the main inspiration
once we started taking the pictures.
Do you find that you have a unique perspective on Japan as a foreigner living abroad there, and what drew you to Japan initially?
My wife is Japanese. I thought it would be good for our kids to live in Japan and go to Japanese school. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to live in Japan although I had already been there several times and liked it. It was a culture shock. I felt so alone, and my wife was working a lot. Living and visiting is not the same thing. And I didn’t know what to photograph. I was cycling around on my own every day. Everywhere I looked, it looked like a picture I had already seen. Everywhere telephone wires with a blue sky, salary men, school girls, fashion outfits, pachinko. I didn’t like it. It took me about three years before I was able to see things that interested me. I mean things that other people didn’t photograph.
To me what makes your work in Fashion photography stand out is the way that it resists or ignores fashion photography conventions on a number of levels. Is this something you consciously work towards?
I started taking pictures in 1986. And I decided to stick to a simple approach, which meant doing pictures in a way that was less about taste and was more about making images that were as plain or neutral as I could make them. Just a roll of film in the camera exposed normally. Not trying to look interesting. Just photographing in a straightforward manner. I was hoping that a simple approach like that would show how I see things.
So to answer your question, yes, I ignore the conventions of fashion photography. I photograph the clothes the way they are. The more I do, the simpler these photographs become. Fashion for me is people wearing clothes. So when it comes to the fashion pictures, I look at people on the street. I get attracted to some (not many) I see because of the way they look. I don’t know exactly what it is, but usually they own a kind of natural simplicity but at the same time originality.
And so yes, there’s a resistance. A resistance to allure or seduction. Getting as close as possible to some kind of failure.
This leads me to the broader question, What are the influences that shaped your aesthetic?
I don’t know. I don’t want to sound difficult but, okay, of course I am affected by what’s out there, but I’m really not thinking about influences when I’m making my work. I’m mostly responding to my own work, and trying to approach the things I see in the most matter of fact way possible.
If I was forced to name someone, maybe the spirit of someone like Derek Bailey comes to mind. It seemed to me he was just sitting down every day and trying to do his own work in the most non-idiomatic way possible.