These extraordinary photos by the artists Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen offer a new perspective on our place in the world, as the subjects seem to melt into the landscape around them.
Where do we end and where does nature begin?
That’s the question that these extraordinary photos, by the artists Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen, seem to ask us.
The Norwegian-Finnish duo have spent much of the last decade photographing people enveloped in nature – hidden among rocks, up to their necks in bogs or encased in ice.
Each image features a solitary figure in a natural setting that they’ve helped choose. They’re dressed in what the artists call “wearable sculptures”, made from natural materials found at the location, so they appear to be blending into the landscape. Or is the landscape blending into them?
The project has taken Karoline and Riitta as far afield as Japan, Senegal, Iceland and the US, to snowy mountaintops, windswept bays and pockets of nature in the hearts of cities. They are now preparing to publish their second book of the photos from the project, to mark its tenth anniversary.
Initially, the series was inspired by Scandinavian folk tales, but over time the artists have broadened their scope and let their collaborators lead the way. The name of the project, Eyes as Big as Plates, draws on a description of the troll in the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, but also evokes the sense of openness that the pair look for in the people they photograph.
The images are at once beautiful, melancholy, unsettling and often unexpectedly funny.
“We have a lot of fun taking the pictures,” says Riitta. “We vowed early on to continue as long as it’s fun, and it’s still fun. We’re learning so much.”
Many of the subjects of the photos are strangers who Riitta and Karoline simply found on streets, in cafes, even swimming baths. Others they already knew. “When we see someone we want to photograph, we don’t even have to say anything,” says Karoline. “We just look at each other.”
What happens next depends on what they learn about the person they’ve met, where they feel they belong and what kind of connection they have with nature.
While the pair have a lot of fun, the shoot itself tends to have a different atmosphere, says Riitta. “There’s a serene feeling, it’s quiet. Maybe for two hours this person sits in a bog or on a rock, we’re building this sculpture around them. They get to experience their own landscape in a way maybe they don’t usually.”
The project doesn’t have any particular agenda, but the artists talk about “subtle activism” – using arresting images to draw people’s attention to nature and how humans fit into it. “We bring up a conversation that opens up somebody’s mind and then they might change their perspective,” says Riitta. “It started with folk tales and how people would personify different natural phenomena, give them a human form, make them understandable. Maybe that’s a way that we could approach climate change. If you understand more, you’ll care more. We’re not the ones to say if it works.”
- Pre-order the book, Eyes as Big as Plates 2, here.