It was raining on our last day in Paris and although it wasn't quite the 20's, it was still Paris, in the rain. Unlike Gil Pender
we didn't manage to stumble upon the taxi that would sweep us back in time to meet cultural icons, but rather one that decided to delay our much anticipated meeting with longtime French resident and photographer Ola Rindal, who has been living in Paris since 2001. Ola has put in the hard work to get to where he is today in the photographic community and as a foreigner myself, it is always interesting to hear from others in a similar position how they ended up pursuing their dreams overseas. Living a short trip by subway from the centre of Paris, Ola finds the suburban area more relaxed for him and his family. Here it is a little bit more quiet and he is also able to have his studio space, five minutes walk from home, which he shares with his wife who makes pottery. “We are kind of between the studio and our home all the time” he says and they tend to hang out there rather than in the centre of Paris.
After attending photography school in Sweden, Ola decided he would pack his stuff, sell his car and move to France. He had previously done some work for Purple Magazine, but did not really know a lot about France or the language, however he thought he may like to stay in one of the most photographed city’s in the world. For the first two years Ola lived off nothing and spoke of the downturn in the market around the time of his arrival putting him in a position where he was not really working at all. He admits it was a lonely and tough time where even café work was hard to come by as he did not speak French. “I was really poor and trying to figure out a way to make it work” he says. Not pursuing anything outside of photography Ola eventually landed a small advertising job and was able to drag himself out of the ‘hole’. Learning French definitely helped this process and also helped him with his work. We speak a bit about languages and the importance of being able to communicate finding common ground in Japanese. I used to live in Japan many years ago and his wife is Japanese. He laughs as he says "Sugoi" and confesses that he should speak more than he does but, as he explains, him and his wife met in Paris and language they speak at home is French.
Ola now spends his time exploring personal projects and commissioned fashion work. Within his personal work, a style he has always had, is to focus on what he sees in reality or daily life. “I don't go somewhere to take pictures” he said, “It is real life and what I see. If I go to the post office, for example, I take a picture, you know what I mean.” This is a method our own photographer Ronja enjoys and by shooting all the time you give yourself a large archive of images to go through at a later stage, often things that you have forgotten about. Shooting like this, however, means projects often take a long time to create, including his Paris project, which is a collection of images shot over a period of 15 years.
Paris has often been depicted as a beautiful and romantic place whereas this book showcased the darker side of Paris with pictures he found “ugly in some way” and “It was images I took because of things I found disgusting and took a picture” which he thought would never become something. He says the project was formed out of “necessity” and we ask him to explain what he means by this. Elaborating on how the book did not really start as a project, Ola says it was just him taking photos from when he arrived in Paris. The Paris that he saw and the Paris that moved him was a contrast to images of the city he had seen previously. It wasn’t until 2013 that he put together a collection of sample images of what he might like to show in a book which he showed to close friends who told him to explore it further. From this point it took a long time to develop and eventually he was able to bring it out in 2017. The necessity of the project for him was the journey and trauma of “Coming to a new city, not knowing the language and also initially feeling very alone. At times I was afraid and felt like I shared things in common with the vulnerable people of the city. I felt like it was something I had to do and had to say something about.” As he explained earlier he had nothing when he arrived in Paris and the project and is an analog journal of his everyday life in Paris over the last 15 years with the first pictures from his first week in Paris and the last one from the massacre at Bataclan.
Back home in Oslo, Ola is interested in what has been happening lately in the creative scenes. We speak about the size of city and even though Oslo is relatively small, there is a number of things happening, especially in photography. The opening of new galleries plus the expansion of other galleries/hubs like MELK continue to be important in developing photography and to the photographic community. It is a positive trend that talented people are now choosing (and have the ability) to be creative and pursue that as a career in Norway. That or as he mentions leave and come back home with knowledge they have learnt abroad. We are curious about him being in Paris for so long and whether he still has work connections in Norway. “I have never worked in Norway” he replies and although having never actively looked for commercial work back home, no one has ever asked. At the time he chose to leave he saw the Paris market as something that was better able to fulfil what he wanted to achieve as a commercial photographer and since then he has published works in magazines such as 032c, AnOther, i-D, Purple as well as projects for brands like The Elder Statesman and Our Legacy. In saying this he does display some of his personal work on occasion and was part of the scene around Fotogalleriet when he lived in Oslo.
“I think the photography scene is Norway is the one I know the best and I do keep in touch with it. There has definitely been changes since I lived there and there is new generations coming and going, it is different from what it used to be. The Norwegian scene seems to be on its own a little bit and is not so trendy, dictating its own rules in a way. I feel a lot of things in Norway are doing that, kind of on an island. I think it is nice to be like that and not like Stockholm, for example, which is trendy and they know exactly what is going on everywhere else. This can lead to a lot of trend based copying, whereas Norway has its own kind of world. I think these people at MELK have changed the photography scene a lot, since they are pushing this art photography scene into something it wasn't before.”
Ronja first knew of his work from the art side and he says it is interesting that people know him from both sides of his work as, comparing the commercial with the personal, it is quite different. His work, however, always has a personal perspective, even in the commercial side. It is developed from personal ideas and he doesn’t try to hide who he is as a photographer. We speak about finding your creative voice and “pleasing of clients” which for him is not a good way to go. “It is more about convincing people that your work is good and you, as a photographer, need to believe in it somehow. Nobody is going to like your work at first anyway.” It is good to take on others perspectives and ideas, he admits, but something he has learnt has been to keep a steady course. “If you listen too much, or try to please too much, it is a dangerous path” he says, that is an easy road to getting lost in who you are as a photographer. He acknowledges that with his fashion photography he is part of the system and it is not completely his own images, as he does work in a team where decisions are made collectively. This side of his work is much more about constructing a feeling, rather than being an observer - “You need to find the model, the space, the clothes, fix the hair/makeup and eventually you have something to work from where I can shoot like I normally would, but to get there is not the same process.”
Following on from the Paris project Ola found himself jumping straight into a family project, DAG - MADOKA - MIYA, which became a relieving experience to do something uplifting after years of “Homeless people.” This was a very straightforward project, one small book dedicated to each family member. The idea came about after a friend went through his entire photo archive and suggested he do something with his family. Ola had always wanted to do a family project after being inspired by Lee Friedlander and his book that documents him from a young age and then progressively getting older to where he has kids and then the kids have kids. “I thought it was an amazing project where I felt someday I am going to do this, I just didn’t realise it would be so quickly.” His project is fairly simple and similar to the Paris project, is not pictures that are shot for a book. The pictures are everyday things he had in his personal archive which he used to construct something meaningful out of.
Ola believes his mentality towards work is something that has not changed during his time in Paris and he has “Always tried to be honest and straightforward” with his work, shooting what he sees around him. Although learning a lot about fashion since moving to the French capital, the ideas, he says, “Come from your personality and you cannot really change the one you are.” He jokes that he hopes that his images have become better after all these years of shooting, before continuing to say, “I cannot be like these other photographers or do anything else other than what I am doing, that’s how I feel. What I like, what I see around me and what interests me has remained the same”
Ola is currently working on a new book project focusing on “Subtle landscapes” as well as preparing for a new showing at MELK in August. The new project is something he feels has a little bit to do with where he grew up in the countryside in Norway - “Birds, trees and stillness.” Even if a lot of the images are from Paris, it is things he finds quiet and beautiful. “I feel in my personal work I don't answer to anyone except myself, which I think you can tell. It feels lonely and there is not so many people in my images. It is rare and it could even be a fashion picture, but it is more like a symbol of a person, in a way.”
We ask why he chose to stay in Paris and he replies “I don't know, thats a good question and I ask myself that sometimes. I wonder why I stayed.” He laughs and says he can be quite stubborn at times and does not want to give up. So there was a feeling that if he went home it would be the same as giving up. He also did not really know anyone in Oslo at the time he moved to Paris and did not want to go to Gothenburg where he studied or Stockholm. “I did not really know what to do so I guess that is why I decided to stay (In Paris) then and it is kind of the same now. I stay because I don't know where else to go.”
Photography by Ronja Penzo
Photography in slideshow by Ola Rindal