Imaginary Realities

Text by Louise Wolthers
Translated by Jane Rowley

Astrid Kruse Jensen’s photography interrogates our fundamental concepts of reality and naturalness by bringing a new, disquieting focus on all that is familiar. The subjects are anchored in apparently everyday places, yet in the photographic image they are transformed into alternative realities that live on in the imagination of the viewer. The title of the exhibition, Imaginary Realities, underlines precisely this passage between reality, image and imagination.
An image like Miniature World joins many of the characteristics of the series. The photograph depicts a place normally full of people [a station], here depopulated. Only a solitary figure appears in the image, almost like a film stills, and her presence is rendered slightly absurd. The individuals in Kruse Jensen’s images are all women, who due to the static nature of the photographs are reminiscent of marionettes. 

That the images are devoid of people is partly due to the fact that Kruse Jensen works at night or in the evening. She rarely uses a flash, choosing instead to use the light source available on site, like a lamppost or neon sign shedding a light that can be cold and hard or in glaring colours. Rather than ‘illuminating’ the subject and making it easier to decode, this artificial light forms a barrier to recognition. At the same time the photographer uses darkness as an independent element in her photographs: The black surface is allowed to fill the image, transcending the absence of light. The darkness becomes almost palpable, and as in Bus Stop can conceal the contours of details not apparent at first glance.

By focussing on its less familiar aspects the space suddenly becomes alien. The elements we usually use to find our bearings are either hidden or distorted in the ‘artificial’ light. One of the results is that the viewer can begin to doubt the scale and dimensions of the image, as in Kasse and an image like Train Stop when seen just after Miniature World. Are we in a miniature model universe or the real world? Kruse Jensen’s photographs thus also question how we sense and experience our surroundings with both our bodies and our eyes. Her camera has ‘body’ - this is not a superficial gaze. Yet the images don’t only deal with the outside world at a phenomenological level. Their scenic quality also explores how space itself [architecture, fixtures, landscapes, etc.] influence the ways in which we interact. Her staging of a space reveals patterns of movement and social power structures not normally visible.

Being both poetic and sinister the photographs appeal to the viewer’s imagination. Kruse Jensen also refrains from romanticising the places she photographs, most of which are destinations like Scotland, Russia and Holland. Travel sketches have always been a central way of using the photographic media: From the early cameras of the 19th century, to the cell phones of today, people have pointed their lens at the unfamiliar, the ‘exotic’, or the historicised tourist attraction. But Kruse Jensen zooms in on everyday places, as in Restaurant, drawing attention to the fact that community [even when based on a feeling of loneliness] exists across national-geographical boundaries. In Iceland she has photographed outdoor swimming pools – common meeting places. With the epic nature as a background they become social landscapes within the ‘postcard’ landscape, emphasising that the outsider’s concepts of ‘artificiality’ and ‘construction’ are often too rigid.

Perceptions of the foreign are always defined by one’s own culture, and travel photographs similarly talk of home, a theme Kruse Jensen has explored in her earlier series Allusions of Home. Her photographs are located between the familiar and the unfamiliar: They are totally sharp and thus apparently readable, yet this does not mean that they are easy to recognise. On the contrary – the familiar is disturbed and we’re forced beyond the prejudiced habits of vision.