Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Conversation with Erika Larsen

Jenny Came Home,
from the series 'The Past is Never the Past' Early Family Portraits, © Erika Larsen

Erika Larsen is an amazing photographer whose work focuses on human relations with life and death. She recently won the Women In Photography-Lightside Photography Grant for her current work, "Sami, the People." Amazingly, Erika found time in between working on this project right now to answer a few questions for us. We're so thankful to have Erika share her thoughts and also showcase brand new images from the Artic.

Last Portrait of My Grandmother,
from the series 'The Past is Never the Past' Early Family Portraits, © Erika Larsen

Tell us a little about yourself?

Erika Larsen: I am 33 this year. Photography has been one of the most recognizable gifts given to me to experience life and communicate it in return. I have been making pictures since I was fifteen.

After The Wolves,
from the series 'The Hunt', © Erika Larsen

NP: How did you discover photography?

EL: When I was young my father worked on Hubble Space Telescope. He brought home pictures of Saturn, Jupiter, moons surrounding the various planets and so forth. When I held those images in my hand I recognized photography as a sort of magic. Something so far away, mysterious, otherworldly was brought so near to me. It offered me no explanation but it was tangible enough to continue to believe in that which could not be seen with my own eyes. I still hold this belief and enchantment with the medium today.

Hunting Boots,
from the series 'Young Blood', © Erika Larsen

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

EL: My inspiration comes from something deeply internal and eventually I have a need to express my inner world as it collides with my outer. I am also intrigued by humanity, our connection to the natural world and death.

Ruthie's First Kill,
from the series 'Young Blood', © Erika Larsen

How do your projects come about?

EL: The same themes have always been constant through my work since I was young and they seem to be cyclical. My earliest work focused on my family and friends and what we were facing at that time; divorce, death, sickness and general daily life. This work continues to evolve today. In university I began to use photography specifically to explore the human relationship to death through a series of fabricated scenarios relating to afterlife. When I started working for magazines in 2000 the majority of my assignments focused on daily American life mirroring the themes I had been exploring in my own personal life, again addressing, how people dealt with death, sickness, divorce and general sensitive issues which we all inevitably face.

In 2003 I began my series the ‘The Hunt’. In the beginning hunting was a way for me to purely look at death without the sensitive human emotions that existed within family circles. As this work evolved I recognized that I was learning from a group of people that were tuning into natural life and death cycles.

Nils Peder and Reindeer,
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen

In 2006 I began my next body of work ‘Young Blood’ which focused on children hunters in the United States. It seemed a natural progression to explore the next generation and what role they were playing as stewards of the earth.

Sunna and Laila,
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen

My latest project ‘Sami, The People’ has brought me to the Scandinavian Arctic. Here I have watched my hunting work expand into learning about a culture and people that live symbiotically with nature and animals for their existence. It also encompasses their daily life and similar themes I have always addressed with my family images.

Arild Slicing Meat,
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen

NP: What’s next?

EL: Like I briefly mentioned above I am currently working in the Scandinavian Arctic living with families of Sámi reindeer herders. I am creating still images and an experimental film that reveal my experiences with these families, the relationship to the arctic landscape, the cultural traditions that define a community and the work that sustains their existence. I see Sámi as a rich culture steeped in dualities and of a reverence for daily life. This has allowed me fertile ground to explore.

Ingrid Cleaning Fish,
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen

The most obvious recognition for myself thus far is that through these family’s lives I am gaining a greater depth of understanding of what is means to be human. We will see where this takes me.

Sunna Mixing Blood,
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen

I will have work from my series ‘Young Blood’ on display at Outwin Boochever Portrait Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian from October 23, 2009 through August 22, 2010.

Ellen Inger,
from the series 'Sami, The People', © Erika Larsen

Thank you, Erika! Please head to to see more work.

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