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MIRAGE The Photography of Hanne Larsen

The Photography of Hanne Larsen


MIRAGE The Photography of Hanne Larsen

TEACHERS/ADVISORS Hannah Kaihovirta-Rosvik, Lars Rebers, Emma Westerlund

Copyright 2011Â HanneLarsen

CONTENT Page 7 Preface

Page 8 1.Background

2.The Discovery


Page 9 4.Process

5.Thematic Starting Points

Page 10

6.Philosophical views

7.Photographic view

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9.Previous photographic Studies of Water

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Page 13





I often find that my enthusiastic beliefs die out with time and get forgotten, for a new conviction on the same subject to appear. An example of this theme is how I relate to life. When I was five years old my favorite color was yellow, like the sun. But when I found out about “holes in the ozone layer” and the harmful sun rays sent down to earth, I switched favorite color to green, like the grass and trees. I remained angry at the sun for years to come. Today I’m addicted to the sun because of the way I use it to photograph. When the sun shines, I get my best pictures.

When spring arrived, I continued to take pictures of people underneath, but also above water. I was hooked, and all my photographic ideas were water-related in some way. I began to make pictures when the sun was shining at its strongest. I also


experimented with how the light refracts under the water and

Nature has always played a central role in my life since I was

people who are under it, seen from above. Making pictures outside

a child, when I spent almost all holidays in the mountains surrounded by trees, streams and lakes. I’ve always been fascinated by the lakes and the mystique around them. I can always imagine that there is something hidden under the surface that one cannot see.

creates distortions of the facial expressions and bodies of the in natural waters was a matter of course, because I wanted the expression to be as natural and genuine as possible. With genuine and natural I mean water that is in no way treated with other substances. In the autumn, it was more difficult to take pictures of people under water because of the cold and ice that eventually covered

2.The Discovery

the surface. Because I wanted to take pictures outdoors, the only

I’m still just as interested in water, if not more. In March 2010 I

became a natural base with its volcanic activity that leads to hot

traveled to the east of Finland in connection with a project that dealt with the Finnish Kalevala mythology. On the journey I saw

solution was to seek out hot bathing sites in Scandinavia. Iceland springs.

the long stretched out lakes with a beautiful blue color that I will


late forget. This gave me an impulsive interest in photographing

Water was a key element in my quest for imagination and dreams.

people in water. It was cold and the lakes were almost completely covered with ice. But I still insisted that my traveling companion should take a picture of me under water. I crept into a puddle of water surrounded by ice, but had difficulties when the body discovered how cold it was. The situation resulted in breathing problems and half an hour with frozen unrecognizable feet, but the important thing was that I got the picture where I was under water. It was worth it. The idea was developed and I continued to shoot people under water, but also above water in Finland, Norway and Iceland.

I wanted to capture it photographically. I wanted to show that dreams and fantasies could occur in reality. If not for a long time, then at least for a moment they may be present. Images which can be seen while spending time in nature, but which do not exist. How could I manage to capture an imaginative idea that could arise in connection with nature and lakes? How could I take advantage of my imagination to the highest degree and create the atmosphere that already existed in my mind? Maybe the water itself helped to create a mood beyond its physical characteristics? I would let the expression of the models occur spontaneously, in a vague idea that the “mood” in the water could affect them.



5.Thematic Starting Points Dr. Masaru Emoto (The Hidden Messages in Water, 2004) has done an interesting study of water from around the world. He has developed a technique where he freezes water into ice crystals and goes on to study them. The interesting part of his research is that it turns out that water exposed to negative words and opinions often

Dr. Emoto’s research on ice crystals made it even more obvious to me that I would shoot all the photos in natural water.

forms deformed and incomplete crystals. In contrast to the water that is exposed to positive opinions, which forms complete and beautiful crystals. When water freezes, the particles link together to form a crystal core, and when the core is growing in a stable manner to a hexagonal shape, it appears as a visible ice crystal. But if the information is in conflict with nature, it will repeatedly form


incomplete crystals. For example, tap water, which is purified

By activating people in my photographic projects, I feel that my

water. Emoto claims that water has the ability to copy and

work takes on a whole different meaning than when I work alone. It gives the work more scope and creates an expression that is not 100 per cent dependent on me. This I find as an exciting and interesting way of working. There is something about activating others that has a liberating effect, when one is pulled out of their particular lifestyle, to do something completely different. As director, I try to motivate the participants to perform their best, but it is always important that they get something out of the situation and experience. Most people are happy to participate in projects that do not place high demands on them, but which may trigger interest in the project’s content. Believing that “Life is about making life easier for each other “, I want people to get something out of my work. Whether it is as spectators or participants. The outcome will be a partnership, made up by participation and willingness to help.

with chlorine, has a damaged structure compared to natural memorize information. The water in the ocean is reminiscent of the creatures that live there. Earth’s glaciers may likewise contain millions of years of history of the planet’s life. The water circulates around the globe, flowing through our bodies and spreads to the rest of the world. If we had the opportunity to read the information stored in the memory of water, we would have been able to read a story of epic proportions. Existence is vibration. Everything generates its own frequency, which is unique. Substance is the vibration of smaller parts, all that exists is particles and waves. Atoms with electrons rotating around them. For example, he describes how a tuning fork that resonates with a frequency of 440 Hz (440 cycles per second), will resonate if you sing a tone that has the same frequency. The song sets the air in motion and hits the fork with the same frequency, which means that it will begin to resonate and reproduce the same tone (a). Vibration is life and we resonate with each other. Dr. Emoto’s research on ice crystals made it even more obvious to me that I would shoot all the photos in natural water.

5.Philosophical Views In Greek mythology, one can read about Narcissus, a hunter from the territory of Thespia in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was particularly proud, and despised those who loved him. As a divine punishment, he fell in love with his own reflection in a lake. Without realizing that it was just a picture, it drove him to death, not willing to abandon the beauty of his own

Eco-philosophy arose as a response to the declining mechanical worldview and the impotent linguistic/analytic philosophy that came out of it. As proof that this worldview was destructive stood our violent and selfish acts against fellow human beings, and our widespread abuse of the environment. The Norwegian


Philosopher Arne Næss (1912-2009) traveled and studied the way

Water acts not only as reflection, but also as a lens, where the

such as Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and the principles of

effect depends on how the water is exposed to the light and from which angle you look at it. The light refracts in the water, as it does in a camera lens. The invention of the camera, and its increase in popularity at the end of the 1800s led to a unique opportunity to freeze your own reflection. There are many different ways to see your own reflection and several different

people abide to principles cutting across cultural boundaries, social justice. In his dissertation “Cross-Cultural Eco-philosophy Approach”2 ,he identifies two main reactions to the awareness that we are destroying the natural world. The short-term “Shallow Ecology Movement” relies on quick, technical fixes and pursues business as usual without any deep questioning of our values or long-range changes in the system. The long range “Deep Ecology

theories on how to do it.

Movement” takes a broader view, looking for long term solutions

Eco-philosophy proposes humanity to be seen as one with nature,

and action. We cannot go on with business as usual. We must

as an integral part of the process evolution carries out in the universe from matter to life, from consciousness to the divine.

and pursues deep questioning and new patterns of change change our lifestyles toward higher quality of life, rather than increasingly higher levels of production and consumption.

The central concept of eco-philosophy is “The World as Sacred”.1 This as an alternative to the Newtonian/Cartesian vision of “The World as a Machine”. This worldview emphasizes the unique, precious and sacred nature of our planet. All other principles of eco-philosophy are followed by this one. The five key tenets in eco-philosophy is: 1) The world is a sanctuary. 2) Reverence for life is our guiding value. 3) Frugality is a precondition for inner happiness. 4) Spirituality and rationality do not exclude each other, but complement each other. 5) In order to heal the planet, we must heal ourselves.



1 Webpage: 2 Article: Arne Næss’s Cross-Cultural, Ecophilosophy Approach. Drengson, 2000.

6.Photographic Views The refraction of light is an optical phenomenon that occurs The Shallow Ecology Movement does not question deeply

when a light beam changes direction at the border crossing

because it focuses on short term, narrow human interests. Thus,

between two substances with different optical density.3 The

it only thinks within the systems that already exist. It assumes

explanation is that light travels faster through thinner optical

that we can do OK without making fundamental changes. This

materials than through optically denser substances. The

approach is usually followed by mainstream institutions. In

wavelength is shorter in the water than in the air, because the

contrast, the deep questioning approach of the long-term Deep

speed of the propagation of light is lower in water than in air.

Ecology Movement examines our fundamental values and reflects

Because the wavelength is so much bigger than the distance

on the basic relationships and who we are.

between molecules, the smaller waves all go in the same direction

Supporters are asking how they can modify their activities to

which causes a well-defined reflected beam. The smaller waves

bring them into harmony with natural processes of community.

are deflected when they cross the border between two substances

They realize that they do not know how to manage the natural

due to the change in speed. For the same reason, they will form a

world, but must learn from the integrity and diversity that are

well-defined broken beam. When the light beam hits the water’s

naturally found there. We must learn to control ourselves as

surface it’s going to be broken. How much it breaks is relative to

responsible members of the ecosphere, which includes diverse

the angle at which the sunlight hits the surface of the water. For

social and species communities. While the “Shallow Ecology

example, at sunset, the sun’s rays hit the water surface at a steep

Movement” is anthropocentric (humans first) and considers

angle, and therefore cause the water surface to break the light

only human interests, the Deep Ecology Movement is based

more than at midday, when the sun is higher in the sky.

on a platform principles that underline the need to respect the intrinsic worth of all beings, humans included, and protect all

In my pictures you can see the result of light refraction, which

forms of biological and cultural diversity.

creates a distortion of the models under water. The steeper the light rays falls from the sky, in relation to the surface, the bigger is the refraction of the models. On the other hand, if the light falls vertically into the water it does not break at all. Another interesting factor that can be seen in the underwater pictures is when the bright light from the sun hits the top of the waves on the top of the water surface. This creates strong lines of light on the model and water surface. The model under water gets most distorted if the waves on the surface are frequent and the sun is low in the sky.

3 Webpage:

8.Previous Photographic Studies of Water The Finnish photographic artist Susanna Majuri (b. 1978) has done a very comprehensive work shooting people under water.

7.Discoveries During the shooting of the footage I noticed that the waves on the water helped to provide the greatest distortion of the people under water. The sharp rays of light reflected from the waves formed a separate projection of the person under water. If the sun was not prominent as a light source, I often chose to expose with a slower shutter speed, to achieve an effect that distorted the person. This created a result that is similar to what you get when photographing objects above water while moving and at slow shutter speeds, but it gets a different effect when the water around the person is also in motion. I noticed that, depending on the water people were shot in, the yellowness was different from water to water. This may be due to various factors such as plant growth and the amount of light, where a greater amount of light would lead to a more yellowish result. I worked consistently with naked skin in the underwater images, to emphasize the effect of the distortion. I have taken advantage of the camera’s unique ability to capture this, where the desired image exists in a fraction of a second. The Mamiya ZD medium format camera is a physically demanding camera to work with, but the format and perspective with a 45 mm and 80 mm lenses have given me the technical advantages I strived for.

Her images present film stills lifted from an adventure, thriller, or romance with happy ending.4 She takes inspiration from fables, stories and music, and weaves her impressions together to create a world she can relate to. In her most noticeable work, she has printed large wax cloths with designs at a size of 6 meters, which she has sunk down in a pool. The models have emerged in the water and become part of a story that she captures. She shows a whole spectrum of what it means to be a girl, sister, girlfriend, and from there to lover. The main characters often play a big role, as the heroes of the story, but also as an object of sexual desire. The characters are mostly dressed in loose clothes that blend into the whole, seemingly unconscious, or perhaps even deaddrifting. Iceland is her dreamland, with its glaciers, geysers and waterfalls where she can sense the stories, music and adventure. Majuri portrays people who live, not just only in Iceland but also in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, for in her mind there is a small piece of Iceland in all Nordic countries. She finds similarities in the landscape just as captivating as the diversity of languages spoken in the different countries, and based on this she weaves together her impressions and creates slideshows that can tell stories about her life and emotions. Sometimes the dark currents of the ocean washes around them, at other times they can be surrounded by the crystal clear waters of a pool. Water is also a place of danger, where the main characters lose their earthly gravity and become robbed of the ability to breathe. Majuri lets the bodies be blurred, the surface of the water dissolves into something that resembles countless brushstrokes. Majuri uses water as if it were paint, with deliberate distribution of its properties of absorption and metaphorical dimension.



4 Webpage: nettside:

I think that the similarity between Majuri and me is that we both try to steer away from making direct critical statements. As a reaction to the “enlightenment” of today’s society, we have come to the conclusion that one cannot live with a constant feeling of guilty conscience. One must go further and find a way to see the light of life. And in nature we have found a door that invites to dreams and fantasies that may again bring hope and joy.

Something you see, but which does not excist.

Today’s society is dominated by rationalism which focus is on scientific evidence. Religion and culture is disappearing more and more. It becomes less acceptable to believe in something that is not scientifically proven or rational. At the same time as I ponder about these things, I can not help wondering if this is one of my “new beliefs” that change by time.



I have chosen to name this serial Mirage, based on the meaning

When I shoot, I like do it so that the viewers can imagine

“something you see, but which does not exist”. A mirage is an

themselves to be actual participants of the situation in the picture.

optical illusion that occurs when light rays bend and create a

This viewpoint makes it easy to feel the atmosphere due to

shifting image.

natural angles and perspective. This has always been a consistent

The explanation is that cold air is denser than warm air and

factor in my pictures. When I was a child and was thought how

therefore has a greater refractive index. When light rays pass

to take pictures, it was often at family gatherings. I was told to

from hotter to colder air, they bend towards the direction of the

focus so all of the persons could fit in the frame, so no one was

slope of the ground. If the air closer to the ground is warmer

“cut out” – the most common way of taking pictures, and still a

than higher up, the light beam will bend in a concave, upward

popular way to capture memories today. The traditional way to

path. When the light reaches the viewer’s eye the visual cortex

photograph has always been central to my photography. If I have

interprets it as traced back to a perfectly straight line. This line,

an interesting environment around the subject, I often choose

however, is a tangent to the path the rays take before reaching the

to shoot this as well. For me, it gives the picture so much more

eye. This causes a false image of the sky to appear on the ground.

content and depth. The best pictures are parts of a larger whole,

This can be incorrectly interpreted as lakes reflecting the sky,

if you manage to catch it. The environment has a large impact on

because for the brain this seems like a more sensible and logical

how the persons experience the world around them. But you can

explanation. The word mirage is French, but comes from the

also use the surroundings to produce a desired expression, like I

Latin “mirare”, which means “to look at” to wonder at”.

have done in this work.


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If I had the opportunity I would visit the areas before the footage,


to see how I could achieve the best angle and perspective while

Working with water in this way led me to the artist Francis

shooting. The shooting had to be done as quickly as possible,

Bacon. His unique way of portraying people made me wonder

based on the model’s ability to endure in the water, usually from

why some artists choose to distort reality. I happened to come

15 to 20 minutes. The images of people above the water had

across an article which, in short, said that artists are not happy

a different starting point. On location with the model, I tried

with the world as it is, so they decide to change it.

unrestrainedly to imagine and fantasize the images. I consistently went to the places alone with the model, to avoid being distracted

Francis Bacon was a painter, but used a lot of photography in

in my thinking process about what was about to happen. I had

his work process (Wieland, Schmied, 2006). While painting, he

get into the mode of a “thinker” and viewer of nature’s mysteries.

could refer to photos that were not in any way related with the

The people I have chosen to shoot above water, I see as a

person sitting in front of him. He used photographs to create

reflection of this imaginary process, the dreams and fantasies.

contrast and tension that led to a more complex mood. He could

They are above water, but also present in the “underwater

study images of the skin of a hippo or a rhino while he worked

world “. They can see and feel the mysteries that give them full

on a portraits. A majority of his pictures are painted as a “river of

presence – an approach that interacts with the basic vision of

skin” where the object is flowing out of its boundaries.

eco-philosophy: to look as one with nature. This also appears in Emoto’s study of ice crystals, where he refers to humans as a

Chance was an important element in his creation, which he

substance, consisting of 70% water in constant movement. The

never ceased to emphasize. He refused to make drawings or

figures below water are unclear and mixed with water.

preliminary sketches that could distract his ability to to take chances. His exclusive concentration on painting was a result

The thoughts that surround this theme are closer to spiritual

of conscious dedication. For him chance was synonymous with

thinking than to science. In science, there are results that are

inspiration, luck and intuition, which was crucial for the success

measurable and follow rules. Life cannot always be measured. It

of his creation.

is important to have a philosophy of life where you realize that



everything is interconnected, all people, animals, trees, water, air,

During an interview in 1966 Bacon is quoted as saying “What

breathing the whole universe, and speaking the same language. In

I want to do is to distort the things far beyond the appearance,

science, human beings are supposed to relate only to a view of the

but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the

world that is measurable. But as human beings we must use our

appearance.” He repeatedly pointed out that the development

minds and think on another level, and not just about the things

of the vocabulary of modern art was conditioned by the need

that are measurable. People can use water just like it was used in

to distort the visible world. This was the only effective means of

the ancient days, to see one’s self in the water.

attacking the viewer’s nervous system and stirring his emotions,

References of telling him something about the world in which he lived but of which he was largely ignorant. “People are bundles of concentrated energy, forever in motion, ineffable and indefinable. Their image always appears distorted, however we try to capture it, and for this reason, human beings and nature cannot be reduced to a single common denominator. To reconcile them by portraying them in the same terms is a hopeless undertaking.” The eternal debate and struggle comes down to this: can you unite people and nature under the same concept?

Books: Emoto, Masaru (2004). The Hidden Messages in Water. London. Artria Books. Schmied, Wieland (2006). Francis Bacon – Commitment and conflict. New York. Prestel Publishing. Articles: Drengson, Alan (2000). “Arne Næss’s Cross-Cultural, Ecophilosophy Approach”. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education for Local and Global Ecological Responsibility. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Mirage encourages one to look and wonder about nature in connection with people. Fantasies and dreams are visualized to portray a whole. Sometimes it is important to be reminded of the obvious, that which already exists inside. To find that difficult questions can be answered with simple answers – found in nature. (downloaded 27.01.2011) Webpages: Water and the Sacred (downloaded 25.01.2011) Eco-philosophy (downloaded 25.01.2011) Wavetransmission: reflection and refraction html (downloaded 19.01.2011) Mirages (downloaded 12.12.2010)
























Photography art—diploma work by Hanne Larsen at Novia University of Applied Sciences Media Culture and Photography. Exhibition Re:search, Ap...