Asger Carlsen’s monochrome photography frames its surreal subjects with the quietness and dignity inherent to silver gelatin. His portrait sitters feature in settings that appear familiar, ordinary and domesticated – but are endowed with stumps instead of limbs, multiple sets of eyes, a severely disproportionate physique or wooden stilts for legs. They are, in the words of Jonathan Blaustein, “images that read like a quasi-almost normal series of pictures from 2150, once genetic engineering has had some time to settle in. They look like historical photographs of a history not yet lived.”
Graceful, tragic and painfully comical, Carlsen’s images plunge the viewer into a masterfully uncertain space. The photographer revels in the conflict between the brutal distortion of the bodies, and their magnificent realism, illustrated in the accuracy of their shadows, their skin texture and the subject’s alignment within the space it occupies. These photographs call to mind the damaged classical nudes but render them in the living, human flesh of the present. The photographs are human optical illusions that force the viewer to question the validity of his or her gaze.
“The ‘truth’ of photographs has always been in question, but in these images, it’s the un-truth you are left wondering about, like vivid hallucinations you see out of the corner of your eye,” says Tim Barber, curator of Things (2011) an exhibition of Carlsen’s work at Primary Photographic Gallery in New York. “They are optical illusions in the grandest sense, doctored images with invisible scars.” Carlsen takes photographs of models both within his studio and as he walks around New York City, before merging them together into one constructed image. Each completed work is composed of any number of different bodies, with the only constants being the background and the light. This layering of limbs or facial features is what gives Carlsen’s photographs their absurdity.
Asger Carlson (b.1973) grew up in Frederiksberg, Denmark and is a self-taught photographer. HIs solo shows include Wrong which featured at both V1 Gallery, Copenhagen (2010) and Ruttkowski 68, Cologne (2012), and group shows such as Vice 2012 Photo Exhibition, Moscow, Masterpieces from the Private Collection, Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Denmark (2012), Attachments, The Hole Gallery (2012) and NewContemporary Photography at the NRW Forum, Düsseldorf Germany (2012). He currently lives and works in New York.