Bjørn Sterri’s first solo exhibition in New York was held at Rick Wester Fine Art on October 29.
Image above: © Peru McCarra
Similar to novelists, photographers often work with what is closest – creating tales from facts woven intimately with the essence of real experience. For 15 years Bjørn Sterri has photographed his family, creating a portrayal of his wife, Alejandra and two sons, Jens Linus and Pablo, that is at once exacting, intimate, fictionalized, vulnerable, realistic and proud. His is a robust view of the idea of “family.” Sterri, playing the role of benevolent patriarch, has formed a group portrait of people stubbornly maintaining their identities while acknowledging their shared bonds without pretension. These issues of identity are not limited to familial ties but include the photographer’s as well. A large aspect of the work is comprised of self-portraits, both alone and with his family. Reflecting his approach to family life, Sterri practices photography with the same discipline, experimentation, refinement and sense of renewal. He imbues his family with emotions and reactions ranging from moody indifference to playful abandon, where all have signed off on the script.
This extended essay is comprised of exquisitely toned gelatin silver prints from 8 x 10 inch negatives. The photographs render the endless possibilities of tone, depth and clarity, possible only with this combination of film and paper - photography’s most basic method. It is an approach Sterri has dedicated much of his efforts to, perfecting the results without being mechanical or trite. Sterri brings plasticity to the medium, bending and molding his images to his will.
Images above: ©Bjørn STERRI Left: Self..., Oslo, 2013 right: Jens Linus and me, Oslo, 2006 / courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art
In a work such as Alejandra and me, Oslo, 2009, a double portrait, his wife’s dominant spirit is overwhelmingly fiery and sexualized. While his hand holds the shutter release, hers is in his trousers while standing semi-naked in front of him, biting his cheek, making eye contact with the viewer. Whereas in most portraits she appears plain and unadorned, here she wears glamorous makeup. He may be the photographer but she is the picture maker. Is it the photographer’s generosity of space within the frame or his wife’s acknowledgment of her contribution that make the picture such a moving and evocative study? Or, is it the mutual accommodation of respect rising above it all that confirms that the pair is greater than the sum of the parts?
Elsewhere, Alejandra is stern and removed, or maternally warm and protective, as in Pablo and Alejandra, Oslo 2011, where Pablo falls into his mother’s ready arms. She is steady and prepared for the embrace. Like a true auteur, Sterri shows his finesse in directing himself and his family in group portraits such as My Family, Conil, Spain, 2014, where the vignette of the lens’ coverage frames the four of them against a seascape. It is an idyllic, timeless moment - contemporary yet simultaneously ancient in its recall of 19th century photography. In Self, Oslo, 2013, Sterri appears dressed as his mother, a shadow figure in his life who had recently passed. In what is perhaps the most complete portrait so far, My Family, Oslo, 2015, Sterri has exposed images of each member onto each other, posed against the plain gray background that unites many of the photographs. The result is a layered image, visually alluding to the relationships, interactions and complexities found within any family structure. It is a universal portrait, the clarity of which is not lost in this muddied stew of an image, a fair and accurate reflection of the ties that bind.
Images above: ©Bjørn STERRI Left: Pablo and Jens Linus, La Tejita, Tenerife, 2011 right: Alejandra and Pablo, Oslo, 2011 / courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art
Bjørn Sterri (b. 1960) lives and works in Oslo, Norway. He has been documenting his family through photography for over 15 years through the use of both a Deardorff 8×10” and Polaroid SX70 camera.
He attended two photography programs at the University of Arts and Craft in Stockholm, Sweden and at Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has exhibited across Europe and the Americas with exhibitions at Galerie & Edition Stephan Witschi, Zurich, Switzerland; Museo de la Universidad de Murcia, Murcia, Spain; Paris Photo, Paris, France; The International Photography Fair, Milan, Italy; and Museo de la Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Image above: © Peru McCarra
His first monograph Polaroid Work was published by Pilver Press in 2010, followed by his second monograph, Family Photographs 2001–2014 (Pilver Press, 2014). His work has appeared in A1 Magazine, Emerging Photographer, Esquire Magazine, and Foto Mundo Magazine.