I was pointed to the work of Ragnar by a student on one of the Facebook fora I frequent during a discussion about the pros and cons of the most recent work of Salgado. For the record I see mainly cons - which is certainly not so with Ragnar.
He is a working photojournalist with Iceland’s leading newspaper Morgunblaðið and although he has carried out assignments in areas as far afield as Thailand and Africa he is most well known for his images of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. His images have a certain spontaneity to them – horizons are not always level, there is motion blur, and sometimes out of focus elements “intrude” on the subject. I say “intrude” although in reality the intrusion is only formal – these are clearly the deliberate acts of someone who has full control of his medium.
He also likes to make use of the edges of the frame such as shots 1,11 and 14 accompanying this short interview. It’s an interesting technique which serves in my mind to encourage us to think about what is going on around the subject, and perhaps serves to remind us just how tenuous man’s hold on these landscapes actually is.
What I like about his images most however is the sense that the photographer is of that world and part of what he is photographing. Unlike the feelings I get from Salgado’s Genesis I do not feel he is some kind of evangelist parachuted in for a few days determined to tell us what we should think. He has a genuine relationship with both the landscape and the people and he shows them as they are. Some of his images, such as those covering polar bear hunting, are hard to look at, but there is no sense of judgement. Others such as some of his iceberg shots, are undoubtedly beautiful, but they are not idealised. He seems more interested in helping us understand a way of life on the verge of extinction than reminding us that it is. This feels to me like documentary photography at its very best.
Sadly his website is currently off-line but I bought a small book - Ragnar Axelsson - with a selection of his work, which I can highly recommend – although be aware that all the text is in French. There are also a couple of videos I can recommend: Last Days of the Arctic which is a slide show with atmospheric music, and a documentary featuring Ragnar which is worth a look – but again, be aware, the commentary by the photographer is in English with Danish subtitles but the conversations in the films are in Icelandic and Danish.
Axelsson, R. (2014). Ragnar Axeslson. Arles: Actes Sud Editions.
Photobards. (2009, June 22). Ragnar Axelsson. Retrieved October 25, 2014, from Photobards.com: http://www.photobards.com/interview/ragnar-axelsson-10.html