Du Er Her No / You Are Here Now
By Eivind H. H. Natvig
With poetry by Gro Dahle
2014 Tartaruga Press
Reviewed by Leo Hsu
The signal image of Eivind Natvig’s Du Er Her No/ You Are Here Now may be the first one in the book, a photograph of a figure in a bright jacket standing nearly obscured by enormous clumps of snow that appear to be flying horizontally. He is calm, possibly smiling, though it’s hard to tell, as much of his face is masked by the storm. You can feel both his breath and his being. An echo appears later, an image of a woman carrying a suitcase, walking against the wind. These figures are not masters of the world through which they move, but they seem to accept it, more with wonder than with resignation.
The photographs in Du Er Her No are made in Natvig’s native Norway, from before he left to travel the word as a photojournalist, and after he returned. He describes the churning tumult of this world with heavily pronounced photographs. Some are from his project “Ocean Priest,” about a priest who travels to isolated island communities, but most are observations in a looser mode. Images are defined by saturated colors, deep shadows, and bright light. Natvig seems particularly interested in the luminous aura produced by strobe, atmosphere, and movement given off by subjects when they are photographed.
Motifs suggest a mysterious logic: animals, dead and alive; trees and forests; more figures subsumed by the landscape; people in cars; the skin of a fish likened to the blade of a knife; water. They aren’t about looking so much as recognizing what’s there; the effect is of an intoxicated engagement. Everything, unless it is dead, is in motion. The light alternates between red, blue, yellow, dark, and black. The familiar is seen with fresh eyes and made strange.
This experience is shaped by the design of the book. The very act of opening the book requires breaking a seal, a large red dot sticker that joins the back and front covers, the kind that is used to indicate on a map that “you are here”. Once torn you can’t go back, and by breaking the sticker you are asked to reject the idea that “here” can be indicated as a fixed spot on a map. Inside, each two-page spread displays a photograph, usually across the gutter between the pages. The placement of the picture shifts from spread to spread. At one point, in an image of a badger roadkill, the median of the road runs along the gutter of the pages creating a short-lived sense of stability. You are forced off balance and the effect is unsettling, but like standing on a rocking boat, you get used to it.
Natvig has you understand that “here” is an unstable place between experience and knowledge. Every isolated mood and gesture is an acknowledgment, but collectively they form an investigation. While the pictures are loose, the edit is tight. Disorientation is eventually revealed to be less a matter of intoxication or abandon than the result of a structured dream. The unfamiliar gives way to the surreal and the world of sensations is redefined as a story or a system of patterns, its meaning to be felt more than known. Natvig appeals to the visceral; Du Er Her No not only destabilizes received notions of the order of things, but also reorients the viewer toward something more wild and sudden, dangerous and alive.
Leo Hsu is a photographer, writer and photography instructor, based in Pittsburgh, PA.
Contact Leo here.