A diary - but not about me - Af Cecilie Bepler

Når du nævner dig selv, nævner du altid en anden.

Når du nævner en anden, nævner du altid dig selv.

Bertolt Brecht

I 1968, da Roland Barthes erklærede forfatteren for ’død’, faldt på samme tid mange af de gamle sandheder om genialitet, originalitet, fornyelse og kvalitet. Følgelig blev postmodernismen for dem, der stod til at miste en privilegeret position, opfattet som synonymt med tab. Imidlertid blev erklæringen ligeledes opfattet som en parataktisk fremstillingsstil, hvor fantasien gjorde det muligt at begå sig i åbne relationer, og hvor dikotomien mellem ’mig’ og ’dig’ etableredes som det åbne lærred, hvor virkeligheder ikke transformerede sig til virtuelle tegn men til ukonventionelle fotografier. Det var med andre ord blevet muligt, at skabe en kunst, hvor grænserne mellem virkeligheden og det fiktive var blevet flydende og et decideret anliggende.

Lige præcis i denne kontekst kan man betragte Mette Juuls værker. Hendes fotografi etablerer en version af virkeligheden, der relaterer til et hverdagsagtigt koncept. Men ved nærmere undersøgelse afdækker fotografiernes autenticitet temaer, der gør hverdagsfremstillingen mere kompleks og intim.

I Mette Juuls arbejde kommer man som beskuer med på en rejse: hen til en campingplads, til en skov, til vandet, til Jylland, USA og mange andre steder. Hen til steder Mette Juul har været og ladet fremstå, som var det akkompagner fra familiealbummet. Og så alligevel ikke, selvom beskæringen, belysningen og objekternes arrangering kunne tyde på amatøroptagelser. Det er dog langt fra en amatør, der har været på spil. Mette Juul fotografere almindeligheder og derigennem på dokumenterende vis, videregive stemninger fra hverdagen og rejsen? Men det er i denne optik, at fotografierne bliver til mere end blotte ferieminder. De fotograferede emner, genstande eller steder, peger nemlig i deres tilfældighed mere på det private end på det almengyldige. De peger på noget personligt, på et møde med en tolket virkelighed.

Mette Juuls fotografi er beskrivelser, der former det dokumentariske til specifikke genstande, man personligt kan relatere til. Der er ikke tale om neutrale iagttagelser, for virkeligheden ses gennem et temperament, hvor hver iagttagelse lades med potentiel betydning. Mette Juul bevæger sig ind i en problematik, der handler om relationen mellem det dokumentariske og fiktion, og giver samtidig et formelt udfordrende dobbeltblik på verden.

Der er ikke blot tale om en neutral iagttagelse, en simpel dokumentation, men virkeligheden er netop set gennem et temperament, der fremstiller fotografens indfaldsvinkel og fremstilling. Der er noget mere end det autentiske, og gennem det ellers rutineprægede snapshot lurer et element af drama, og stemningen lades pludselig med potentiel betydning.

Mette Juul har altid været inspireret af film og hendes arbejde er ofte af seriel natur. Hun arbejder med fotografiet i både bogform, printet fotos, installation og video.

A diary - but not about me - By Cecilie Bepler

When you mention yourself you always mention someone else.

When you mention someone else you always mention yourself.

Bertolt Brecht

In 1968 when Roland Barthes proclaimed the author to be “dead,” many of the old truths about genius, originality, renewal and quality also crumbled. For those who would lose privileged positions, postmodernism became synonymous with loss. The proclamation was also interpreted as a paratactic mode of expression where the imagination allowed open relations and where the dichotomy of ‘me’ and ‘you’ was established as the open canvas where realities would not be transformed to virtual signs but rather to unconventional photos. In other words it was now possible to create art where the boundaries between reality and fiction became both vague and a decided matter of great interest.

With this context in mind one can study the works of Mette Juul’s exhibition A diary - but not about me. Juul’s snapshots establish a version of reality bound to a concept of the everyday. Upon closer examination the authenticity of the photographs uncovers themes which make the expression of daily life more complex and intimate.

Viewing A diary - but not about me, the observer is taken on a journey; to a camp site, the woods, water and even Iceland, the USA and Berlin. Mette Juul has visited all these places and presents them as if they were pieces from the family photo album. Yet not, even though the framing, lighting and arrangement of the objects could indicate amateur shots. It is far from an amateur at work. Who would photograph the interior of a telephone booth and thereby document the atmosphere of a vacation? This is what makes the photos more than just holiday memories. The fortuitousness of the photographed themes, objects or places indicates something more private than universal. They all refer to something personal, a meeting with an interpreted reality.

It is a diary but not about Mette Juul. It is a type of portrayal that shapes the documentary into specific, recognizable objects. These are not neutral observations since reality is observed through a temperament where each observation is charged with potential significance. Look at the photo Trailer, for example. A red and white trailer stands in wet, bare shrubbery. The trailer seems misplaced in this rugged mountain setting glimpsed through the blurred background. The entrance is not the traditional awning but a platform of broken wooden boards that, almost symbolically, prevents actual access. The background suggests other presences – partly by the sight of other trailers and partly by the abandoned toy just visible in a naked bush. Despite these objects, signs of human presence are as non-existent as the leaves on the bare, surrounding trees and bushes. This is how Mette Juul approaches the complex relationship between the documentary and fiction and expresses a formally challenging two-sided view of the world.

It is not about neutral observation or simple documentation but about how an artistic temperament expresses the photographer’s perceptions of reality. There is something beyond authenticity, and behind the routine of the snapshot an element of drama lurks. The atmosphere is suddenly charged with potential significance: Who does the trailer belong to? Why is it situated as if it were part of untouched, wild nature? This is a question of something being documented rather than something documentary.

This is also the true of the close-ups The phone call and Modern Man. In these photos Mette Juul plays with an ambiguity that Mette Sandbye defines as ‘the unintentional intimacy’[1]. The photographs, as spontaneous portrayals of everyday life, evoke a depth between photograph and viewer. It is not just a wry snapshot of a telephone booth but rather an account of the photographer’s dual role as player and chronicler.

At the same time, refined impulses make the photographs seem more profound than ordinary notes on everyday life. In this regard, the frame of the diary becomes specific and obvious. Dreams, expectations, thoughts, ideas and hope are revealed in a diary and it is evident that Mette Juul is working with this in mind.

When you mention yourself you always mention someone else, and when you mention someone else you always mention yourself – a simulacrum, an indispensable knick-knack.

Cecilie Bepler

[1] Sandbye, Mette: ’Snapshotæstetik’, IN: Virkelighedshunger – nyrealisme i visuel optik. Tiderne Skifter, 2002: 183.

‘To get a sense of time’: Mette Juul’s Postwestern Photography

Neil Campbell

Mette Juul’s photography is like a prism refracting American Western cultural landscape in the twenty-first century. As cultural these landscapes include human presence and with it all the awkward messiness of everyday life and history constructed through the lived experiences of working people interacting with place. She is not concerned with the meticulous vision of sublime nature devoid of culture, preserved in the myth of a pristine, Edenic wilderness that one finds in certain schools of American landscape art and photography, except when it provides a backdrop to the precarious life going on below. What Juul sees is a post-West of multiple, often marginal voices, constructing a sense of place as a complex cultural and social landscape of real and imagined dialogues over time. For her there are no absolute truths or pure, singular visions, but rather contradictory encounters with the past and future, simulation and dream, tragedy and comedy recorded with the eye of the outsider (Juul was born in Denmark, like one of her heroes Jacob Riis), saturated by images and immersed in the mediated histories that have already produced that landscape both visually and culturally in multiple ways. There is, therefore, an extraordinary sense of outsideness in Juul’s photography, as if she is always seeing the landscape through the combined lens of imagination, snapshot tourism, documentary and mediatised representations. She stares through the lens at the very components of ‘westness’ in all its forms - the breakfast plate, the trailer park, the tourist landscape of Mount Rushmore, the neon motels, the roadside diners or billboards, the grids of streets, parking lots, or drive-ins stretching out from Main Street to burgeoning suburbia to the foothills beyond. For me, Juul’s post-West is, therefore, a spectral landscape of traces and memories from the accumulated histories of the region, a hall of mirrors endlessly reflecting back upon itself through existing cultural artefacts, spaces, and half-glimpsed remnants. In one of the written fragments within Extended Freedom a voice speaks of mirrors as ‘compelling’ inviting the viewer to ‘try to find … the last point behind me that the mirror can reach’.[1] Somehow the fascination with the vanishing point indicates Juul’s concern with the past, with memory and the layers of history that her photographs so intelligently reveal in the West. Every apparently irrelevant or bland space has its own narrative that when placed side-by-side throughout her work creates a diverse palimpsest of the postwestern experience. This is no longer the frontier of western myth, the pure romance of Hollywood movies, or Ansel Adams’ dreamscapes, but rather a living everyday world played out inevitably in the shadow of such established expectations and representations. To be postwestern in the sense I employ it here, is to come after, go beyond, and engage with these ideas of the West as a concept, landscape and cultural phenomena.[2] To me, Juul’s work journeys through such a process; from the ironies of the ‘Modern Day Gold Rush’ with its emptied-out streets and closed down stores, to the uncanny juxtapositions of an Army Careers office next to an ‘Out Sportin’ shop, all shot in widescreen frames as if referring directly to the cinematic tradition being undone in these photographs. Instead, these are the haunted, anomalous, subprime landscapes of the small-town West, where Indian tomahawks embellish motels like spectral reminders of some recently lost history, and people dance alone in bars, or escape to parking lots to ‘be alone and get peace and quiet’. In one of her most powerful images, the first in Chapter 2, Juul photographs an empty sign (probably from an abandoned drive-in) in the midst of a rugged, rural landscape, as if drawing our attention to the way such spaces have been framed in the past, programmed into consciousness to serve a particular mythic version of the West. This image literally and metaphorically ‘reframes’ the West as we gaze through the empty sign to the landscape beyond, asking us to look again and re-think, and even adjust those earlier privileged points of view. This is why her images return, rather like the work of one of her other heroes Robert Frank, obsessively to windows, doorways, reflections, mirrors, and framings of different kinds (TVs, other photographs, chalkboards, pin boards, digital displays, signs, logos etc.), since all of them remind us of acts of viewing, defining and naming that need to be constantly challenged and deframed.

Henri Lefebvre once wrote ‘Space has been shaped and molded from historical and natural elements … Space is political and ideological. It is a product literally filled with ideologies’.[3] From the first images of Extended Freedom, this ‘shaping’ is resonant and clear, as Juul juxtaposes a street scene from contemporary small town Riverton, Wyoming with a newspaper headline from April 14th, 2011 announcing a ‘modern day gold rush’ as people melt down their family treasures for hard cash. This is a tarnished post-West, of closed down movie houses and silent main streets without the fantasy-resolutions of elaborate showdowns or white-clad heroes saving the day. Instead this is a kind of Kmart realism where even the shop name ‘Wyoming Stationery’ seems to speak ironically of a static, almost frozen community ensnared in the landscapes of repossession and economic decline reminding the viewer of this region’s constant history of boom and bust. These tensions are everywhere in Juul’s West, providing shifting narratives or what she calls its ‘short stories’ (the book is divided into ‘chapters’) which, although never linear, operate by folding into one another with combinations of image sequence, suggestive montage, and written text which propel her spiralling text as ‘chapters in life’. In some sections images are ‘joined’ or spliced together, a device that owes something to David Hockney’s experiments with ‘joiners’ in his photographic collages, as well as to the complex juxtapositions of filmmaker Chris Marker, and consequently creates a simultaneous sense of flow and disjunction, as places are linked and simultaneously unlinked and disrupted.

Significantly, Juul’s work intervenes in the potential cinematic flow of images, cutting into landscapes as if to remind us of their history and their awkward reality as lived places. So the panoramic, widescreen image we associate with the Western film or with large format epic landscape photography of men like Ansel Adams, is broken up and re-joined with visibly obvious seams so we actually see more and see differently, like the edits in Chris Marker’s San Soleil (a film Juul admires greatly) that forcibly jolt the viewer to move and connect or disconnect between images, ideas and narratives.[4] Above all, as she says, she is interested in ‘trying to get a sense of time into the images’, through, for example, subtle changes in colour from one joined section to the next, depending on the camera she has used or the movements of the light within the frame. As a result, rather like the process of reframing / deframing discussed above, the images engage the viewer critically in challenging some of the conventional definitions of West-as-region, so that, as Lefebvre noted, one is encouraged to reappraise the ‘everyday’ until ‘in each thing we see more than itself – something else which is there in everyday objects … something enfolded within which hitherto we have been unable to see’.[5] Thus a clock on top of a neglected building, graffiti on a dirty yellow wall, or a strip of rusty fencing curled in front of a trailer take on magnified roles in this unfolding drama of impermanence and change that Juul observes.

Alongside some sections of Extended Freedom, Juul uses extracts from her earlier Photo/Memory Exchange project to further unsettle and ‘extend’ the experience of the work as a whole by provoking possible links to specific images or equally providing lines of flight away in new directions. Either way, the effect is to both suggest and deny narrative, as if we are being prevented from accessing the ready-made stories and myths of the West and are instead, required to look again, to expand our view, and to fragment what we think we already know. There’s a wonderful narrative aside in Chapter 5 that underlines the reiterative power of Juul’s work, when someone recalls being in a diner and than ‘looked up and realized the ceiling was a mirror’ and consequently ‘we were looking up at ourselves’. To me, this is the unvarying strength of these images, inciting us to ‘look up’ and ‘realize’ the ironies of the American West played out in its everyday landscapes.

This is perhaps most explicitly revealed through what Juul calls the ‘pointers of history’ within her work circling around boom and bust, human survival, social change, and the inevitable mythic presence of the West within both the American and global imagination. The book takes its name from a digital display at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, a site only seen in mist within Chapter 5, as if to deliberately deny the mythic and politicised vision of its celebration of ‘extended freedom’. Geographically too, the book surveys under-represented states and in particular focuses on places like Riverton, Wyoming, Butte, Montana, and Williston, North Dakota. The first two are towns surviving, ‘going on and on and on’, as Juul puts it, whilst the latter, in contrast, is a new oil boom town that demonstrates the extremes so redolent of continued economic and social change in the West.[6] As the book folds from place to place, ‘pointers’ act as subtle reminders of spectacular historical parallels between the current oil boom in Williston and the now abandoned mining landscapes of Butte. Abandonment is everywhere in the collection, seen in desperate drive-ins, trailer-parks and derelict buildings, often, however, standing in contrast to emerging new spaces, such as in The Searchers-like image shot through doors and windows of a dilapidated building out into the bright light of a shiny, new gas station.

It is in such moments too that another thread of Juul’s work becomes apparent, for this is a western landscape much travelled by other photographers and filmmakers, from Timothy O’Sullivan to Robert Frank to John Ford to Stephen Shore to Lewis Baltz to Nick Waplington to Wim Wenders. Indeed, Juul produces work in the full knowledge and tradition of these image-makers, referring to them directly and indirectly to evoke both the endless fascination with intertextual ‘westness’ and to comment critically upon its uses and abuses over time. Memory is so often tied to images; to those we create ourselves and to those we inherit from others. Any cultural landscape, therefore, like that of the Juul’s post-West is constructed from these real and imagined, memoried places formed at the intersections of myth and history, in all its numerous ideological folds. Juul’s work offers up a flickering, discontinuous postwestern landscape, juxtaposing the European outsider’s view, part-love part-hate, inherited from Robert Frank, Jacob Holdt and Wim Wenders, with the New Topographics’ desire to record the unrecorded by surveying a social landscape of traces and transformation.[7]

Ultimately, there emerges in Juul’s images a politics too that comprehends the afterlife of the mythic West in all its multiple forms; as romantic yearning, as harsh economic reality, as individual struggle and labour, as loss and failure, as political rhetoric, and as complexly layered lived history. She recognises the West too as patriarchal, dominated by male photographers and filmmakers, whose images have become its lingua franca – like the pornography on the walls of the roadside diners she visits. Chapter 2 ‘Marilyn and Sadie’ intervenes in this patriarchal narrative to some degree, providing a story of a young working woman carving out a life against a gendered landscape not dissimilar from that endured by Marilyn Monroe with whom she is juxtaposed. But, as Juul admits this is always ‘fictional’ and provocative, running alongside the written text here to convey tentative and possible narratives: ‘We drove late into the night every night. We stayed at cheap motels and I think the proprietors assumed we were up to shady business. I was with him, but I felt very lonely’. In another visual sequence a coffee mug reads ‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’ placed alongside a suggestive road sign out on the highway reading ‘Begin’.

The stories she touches on touch us with their Raymond Carver-like attention to the objects and details of everyday life occasionally captured in ‘unsharp snapshot’ style complete with red-eye and flash glare, as well as ‘the composed medium format’ associated with a more traditionally mythic, epic grandeur of the mediated West. As she puts it, ‘I find the America I meet is both. It is beautiful landscape, it is rough people, it is normal life and extraordinary history … and much, much more’. Ultimately, this is a twenty-first century West where people go about their ordinary lives: work, go to school, eat, hang-out, dance, wait, travel, get lonely, watch TV, cook, shop, contemplate plastic surgery, and take photographs; people whose own existence carries on within this place, and whose West is not an object of framed study, but the material subject of their day-to-day lives. To experience this collection, is to exist within a landscape of traces in every sense; of the marks left on the West by expansion, technology, human intervention and imagination; of commodification, exploitation, and just simply trying to make a living. In addition, are those traces left by renown photographers quoted inside the images capturing some decisive moment to define the region, or of those made by anonymous real estate sellers or tourists and pleasure-seekers, and indeed, all those who live and work in this richly layered space. Juul’s intertextuality works on the viewer, reframes these quotations in a wider field of cultural and economic forces, linking and blurring lives with myths, the everyday with the apparently timeless, the iconic with the ironic, the local with the global, in a process like that defined by Roland Barthes as an ‘organism which grows by vital expansion, by “development” … [like a] network’.[8] Ultimately, Juul’s collection is itself a type of ‘extended freedom’ creating a hybrid visual network always telling alternative histories of people and place in the West, but without resolution or finality, for this is a region that, despite everything, lives on both in these powerful photographs and in the stubborn and resilient communities themselves.

Neil Campbell

March 2013


[1] The comments by Mette Juul throughout this essay are from a series of email interviews with the author conducted between January-March 2013.

[2]For more details on my use of the term ‘postwestern’ see Neil Campbell, Post-Westerns: Cinema / Region / West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013) and The Rhizomatic West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008).

[3]Henri Lefebvre quoted in Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies (London: Routledge, 1989), 80.

[4]Chris Marker's poetic cine-meditation on time, place and memorySans Soleil is ‘Like a piece of sci-fi anthropology, it visits humanity as if from another planet, juxtaposing human conventions and customs from Iceland, San Francisco, Japan and Africa’ (Peter Bradshaw The Guardian Friday 15 November 2002 http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2002/nov/15/artsfeatures9 accessed March 12th, 2013.

[5] Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life (London: Verso, 1991), 134.

[6] Mountrail County, near Williston, ND ‘has had a bigger jump in the number of households earning more than $100,000, which spiked to 21 percent from 6 percent during the last decade’ according to the New York Times in 2011 – see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/us/in-north-dakota-a-great-divide-over-oil-riches.html?pagewanted=all accessed March 12th, 2013.

[7] Juul’s title may be a direct reference to William Jenkins’ book The Extended Document: An Investigation of Information and Evidence in Photographs (Rochester: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1975). Jenkins went on to curate the New Topographics in 1976.

[8] Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text (London: Fontana, 1979 first 1977), 160, 161.

First, Second, Third (position). By Kirstine Autzen, 2011

What lies between the blurry snapshot and the clear, optimally framed landscape image? What position is available for me as a viewer? In the installation “Third” by artist Mette Juul the viewer is invited to investigate the complex, yet compelling, relationship between the photographer, the viewer, and the image.

Over time Mette Juul has moved from the photographic exhibition classic towards sequenced images, time-based presentation and fictionalized narration. Her root is in the documentary, nothing is staged, the photographer is present and on the look-out for potential images in whatever is going on. For quite some years she has created her final works at the editing table, where an ever-expanding archive forms a dynamic and open source for poetic stories. She photographs where ever she goes, especially on her journeys, of which several have been to the States. Her work has always been inspired by film and through this, and her extensive use of the book format, her work has increasingly been influenced by the way one page flips over to the next, the way the scenes of a film are set, and the careful penciling of a protagonist.

In Mette Juul’s work one is always greeted with an invitation to take part in the photographed situation, so to speak. Her way of framing, her choice of focus, flash and film gives the viewer a feeling of looking through her eyes – or the camera lens to be precise. As she makes more and more use of sequences, this feeling gets stronger. Her sequences often imitate a moving around in a situation both in space and time: it is both a ‘what happened next?’ but also a ‘what was also happening?’

To contrast the flow and movement of the sequence she makes use of the dynamics of two images being presented simultaneously. On one side of the installation we see the protagonist (a blond photographer, an artist even, but not Mette herself). On the other side we see what she sees – or something related. Between the two projections moving along each their timeline, a third space appears which adds nuances to the position of the viewer. Sometimes we find ourselves looking at the protagonist, sometimes we imagine, that we are seeing what she is seeing, and constantly we are swept along the timeline as we are led from one image to the other. This third space, which we are forced and invited to inhabit, presents a new dimension in Mette Juuls work. The size of the installation alone invites us to relate to the images with our entire bodies, and as such, this new way of working brings about a tactile, immersive and fictionalized mode of work experience, which we normally associate with film, literature and video art. But through constantly presenting us with both the view from outside and within the protagonist we can never settle in one. We are pushed back into the third space in front of the installation rather than getting carried away with the action, as we would in a film.

As a guideline for the making of this work, Mette Juul has limited herself to only using images from a recent trip to Montana, USA. Her reaction to the American society and media landscape (in the widest possible meaning of the term) seeps in to her photographs. It is as if she feels that the symbols, monuments, and images of American national identity are thrown at her in a highly confrontational manner. Statements and signs of freedom, history, religion all take the shape of questions aimed at the photographer: their explicitness seem to provoke her and make her respond, sometimes with humor, sometimes with compassion, and sometimes with spite. However, what seems to rise above the confrontations with symbols is the intimacy of the meeting with people. The awkward, flash-exposed party, the uncool pose, the not-so-sexy clothes are all objects of desire in her work. In them lies the closeness and realism, and through them we feel connected to this odd world.

Kirstine Autzen, 2011

Mette Juul / Louise Wolthers

The photographer’s archiveLW: You have told me about your collection of photographs, and it is obvious that you do not work towards one specific concept or project at a time but rather are photographing continuously – thus staying in the process, so to say. And little by little you have created your own archive of pictures.

The photographic medium, of course, has a close historical relation to the archive or the archiving impulse. I find it interesting to think of you as an archivist. However, your photos are not formally archival recordings but are instead dominated by a snapshot aesthetics which connote private memories rather than official documents. Your collection then also holds references to the family album – especially since you’re often photographing when travelling. When using these pictures in the work you blur the boundary between private and public.

MJ: I primarily work with the snapshot aesthetic and all my images are both my personal memory images and material for my photographic practice. The work is very much in the tradition of the family album – photos from the travel and from home. The images are my way to interact with the world around me, very much in the tradition of William Eggleston, the early Peter Fraser and so on.

LW: In a traditional, public picture archive, the pictures are categorized according to a stable, seemingly neutral system, a hierarchy of information – mirroring a certain rational way of producing knowledge, as Michel Foucault has described extensively. But there’s something about photographs that resist this fixed organization – they often refer to other categories, other pictures by way of their sheer referentiality or indexicality, which Rosalind Krauss has written about. And snapshots like yours keep pointing towards other things, details, meanings, than what we might at first take to be the main motive. So I’m interested in knowing more about how you organize your own photographs? How is your archive expanding, do you work with provisional categories, is there room for cross-references?

MJ: I keep my photographical archive in chronological order. The negatives are in different folders named by time and place. When I systematize my material I make two contact sheets of all my negatives. One sheet for the album with the negatives and the second sheet I cut up with scissors – I cut out the photos I want to use – a very physical and hands-on editing. This is the first editing of my images and I collect the images that I can read a story into, or images that in one way or another trigger a memory or a fantasy. In this first phase of the editing the images are not necessarily in the context in which I will use the image in the final piece.

The archive is where I collect my raw material, and from here arrives the resistance you describe, my editing of the images. It is as if my use of the archive goes in two directions here. One direction is the archive that holds the negatives – the originals. That part of my collection is not touched or moved around. I borrow the negatives to make prints or scan, but the images stay in the context in which they are shot and archived. This is a very old-fashioned archival way of keeping images. The other direction is where the image is resisting the fixed organization and they become images in their own right. This is the second contact sheet where the scissors (myself) fragment the images and work with them in my workbook. This is where the editing/juxtaposition begins. So in relation to resisting the fixed organization, the images do just that in my workbook.

LW: It’s great seeing your photographic notebook – your photographs fit the medium of the book with the possibilities of arranging pictures on a page and using the blank spaces as breaks. The images almost form a tune or a melody on the page.

Like a filmMJ: New images arrive all the time. I photograph almost daily. I have done that for a number of years and it has become a way of looking at the world. I am often very interested in the different things I see during my day (both at home and while travelling), and I am not the kind of photographer who needs to find a reason before photographing, I just set light and then take the photograph. Often, I see the opportunity of an image, and the meaning comes after or appears in the editing. A lot is dictated by the subconscious and the spontaneous.

Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward. In the same way, I photograph forwards but find the meaning and the storytelling backwards. For the same reason I’d rather not use my images shortly after I have shot them. I like to detach myself from the experience of taking the image and see the images almost with fresh eyes.

LW: Your idea about ‘photographing forwards and understanding backwards’ reminds me of André Rouillé who said something like ‘photography was the first kind of image production that was created in uncertainty, in the dark’.[1] That of course goes for analogue photographs that are created in the black box of the camera and only come out into the light later when the film is developed. Rouillé concludes that photographs are simultaneously bound to the present moment and to the future. This also extends the more traditional notion of the photographic image as a cut in the flow of time, the arrest of a moment. You include the time of the photograph’s reception, like Roland Barthes who in his writings insists on the medium’s duality of actuality and distance, presence and past.[2]

Your photos also hold a distinct, cinematic character. They almost imply a narrative but seldom seem to show the protagonist in a key, dramatic situation – rather, they show the breaks, pauses, or intervals, maybe even the cut-offs or deleted scenes. The filmic impression also arises when the photos are seen in a certain sequence. So I’m interested in hearing about how you edit your shows? As a spectator, I automatically try to find connections between the fragmentary images, like in the series from America, which is full of subtle overlaps and rhythms. The narrative is not linear but instead we find formal, thematic or emotional references as well as repetitions (empty houses, pictures in frames etc.) that form a structure and drive the story on.

MJ: I am pleased that you find my images cinematic. I have previously studied film at a film college and worked with documentary filmmaking. That interest still follows me, especially the area between fiction and faction. Here I think of the work of filmmakers such as Jon Bang Carlsen’s It’s Now or Never (1996) or Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983).

I am interested in what you write about my seldom showing a protagonist, about showing instead the breaks, the cut-off. I am more interested in William Eggleston’s Guide than I am in Crewdson’s Twilight, since it is more concerned with stories of daily life and the potential drama within our daily lives.[3] I am not looking for a single image that can contain the whole story; I am more interested in what happens when you put two images next to each other on a wall, or show a lot of images one after another in a projection.

This, of course, is not only about what is between the images. I direct the viewer with my choice of images, and their location, but only to a point. By choosing, let’s say, images from America it can be difficult to avoid the American myth. When photographing in America you very often end up with an almost archetypal image of the nation. Instead of trying to avoid it there are ways to work with it. We can relatively quickly decode these images and they can be an instrument of communication. There is an imperfection in my images. That can be the composition or maybe the banal story within the image. I am very attracted to the imperfect, in the same way that I’m interested in the imperfect personal story. There lies the interesting life experience.

Sadness and humourLW: There are not a lot of people in your pictures, but when there are they have a strong impact, I think. Like the photo with the girl in the armchair. She’s posing while turning her body in a mannerist way adding to the dynamics of the picture together with the figures in the foreground and background. The spectator starts speculating about the situation, the social context, class, etc. But the people in your photos are mostly props, which evoke a sense of distance, absence or maybe even sadness.

However, there’s also a lot of humour in your photographs. Like the picture of the sign ‘Excellence is a standard not a go–l’. It’s not only funny but also in a way it says something about your photographs: the missing letter makes the image interesting. And you have an eye for the odd details and peculiarities, the imperfections. Some of the pictures make me think of photographers like Martin Parr. Ruth, for instance. Her wrinkled arm aims at something in the distance – the woods, something outside the picture frame? The situation is far from beautiful in a traditional way but the composition is great and the picture is both associative and humorous.

MJ: You mention ‘Excellence is a standard not a go–l’. The humour in the image makes it easily approachable but with time the missing letter leaves me with a heavy feeling. The odd detail becomes my punctum – the detail that makes an image more, something else. It changes the reading from humour to seriousness

LW: You mention Barthes’ punctum – a detail in the photograph that evokes a story other than the more logical, referential or rational message of the picture. The punctum is the opposite of general knowledge; instead, it conveys a very private, almost sensual experience. But your pictures also hold references to general knowledge, like high school culture, as you mention, and other elements of popular, visual culture. That is why they are not just visual entries in a private diary – just like the title of your exhibition at Gallery Image (2007) says, ‘A diary – but not about me’. Your photographic practice may be a way for you to meet and understand the world but it also makes the spectator aware of how the world is seen – photographically!

Louise Wolthers, MA in Art History, Ph.D. in Photo History, is a writer and curator, based in Copenhagen, Denmark.


METTE JUUL, born 1977, Denmark
mettejuul50@gmail.com / www.mettejuul.dk

[1] André Rouillé [Mette to supply details of publication]

[2]Roland Barthes (1915–80). French literary theorist, philosopher, critic and semiotician.

[3]John Szarkowski,William Eggleston’s Guide, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002.
Gregory Crewdson and Rick Moody, Twilight: Photographs by Gregory Crewdson, New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc., 2002.

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