A photographic journey inspired by family

Norwegian student Eva Godager captures Norwegians in Brooklyn for student project

Photo: Eva Godager  Great-grandparents: Bent Eriksen Johnsen (Grimstad, Norway) emigrated in 1892; Katinka Foss Hansen (Kristiansand, Norway) emigrated in 1893. “My great great-grandfather, Bent, waited until after his parents passed away and then joined his siblings in the USA. Their whole family moved here. How bittersweet it must have been for them all. The immigrants were all so brave.” Christine Clark (43), Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo: Eva Godager
Great-grandparents: Bent Eriksen Johnsen (Grimstad, Norway) emigrated in 1892; Katinka Foss Hansen (Kristiansand, Norway) emigrated in 1893.
“My great great-grandfather, Bent, waited until after his parents passed away and then joined his siblings in the USA. Their whole family moved here. How bittersweet it must have been for them all. The immigrants were all so brave.”
Christine Clark (43), Brooklyn, N.Y.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

During the school year, hundreds of Norwegian students flock to the U.S. annually, taking advantage of educational opportunities and the experience of studying in a foreign country. But this educational exchange does not take a summer break. Many universities, colleges, and specialized schools offer summer classes. One Norwegian summer student this year was Eva Godager, who was in a photography program at The School of Visual Arts (SVA).

SVA was established in 1947 as a school of illustrators and cartoonists, and at the time most of its students were recent GIs. When I was coming up it had the reputation of being a funky place where bohemians and others who thought and learned outside the box felt comfortable and excelled. Today, SVA ranks as one of the top schools in this country for design, art, and photography. Some of its notable alumni include Keith Haring, Sol LeWitt, and Pete Hamill.

SVA also offers popular Summer Residencies, which according to SVA’s website “offer artists, designers, and creative thinkers time, space, and a supportive community in which to develop ideas and focus on their artistic direction.” Godager, who was studying photography this summer, snagged one of these coveted residencies.

Part of the residency includes completing a project. Godager’s project is connected to her Norwegian heritage. She took portraits of Norwegian Americans in New York. Each subject has been asked to choose a place that is significant to their Norwegian heritage and be photographed there. I had the opportunity to interview Eva before she left New York.

Photo: Eva Godager  From Kristiansand, Norway. Emigrated in 1958.  “He died in a car crash shortly after we came to America. I was 26. Later, I met my 2nd husband, at the Danish Club in Brooklyn. He was also Norwegian. I remember he invited me to go skiing on our first date. I wasn’t very good, I keep falling down, I was so embarrassed. We married and created a life together in Bay Ridge. He died in 2012 and is buried in Norway, where I also will be when the time comes. The secret to a long life, I don’t know, it’s important to be happy If you keep on smiling everyday, I think everything will go well in life.” Signe Christiansen (83), Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo: Eva Godager
From Kristiansand, Norway. Emigrated in 1958.
“He died in a car crash shortly after we came to America. I was 26. Later, I met my 2nd husband, at the Danish Club in Brooklyn. He was also Norwegian. I remember he invited me to go skiing on our first date. I wasn’t very good, I keep falling down, I was so embarrassed. We married and created a life together in Bay Ridge. He died in 2012 and is buried in Norway, where I also will be when the time comes. The secret to a long life, I don’t know, it’s important to be happy If you keep on smiling everyday, I think everything will go well in life.”
Signe Christiansen (83), Brooklyn, N.Y.

Victoria Hofmo: What was your life like growing up in Norway?

Eva Godager: I was nine when we moved to Oslo; before that we lived in London, New Orleans, and Stavanger. We experienced England and the U.S due to my father’s work.

VH: When did you get interested in photography?

EG: I believe it developed over the years. My father and his brother were always photographing us kids growing up, so today we (me and my siblings) are treasured with photo albums because of them. I think I always had a visual interest and the desire of creating something.

VH: Has living in so many places added to your interest in photography?

EG: Every experience shapes who you are as a person, so I think it might be an added reason, along with many other experiences or reasons. I did other things before pursuing the creative world, so perhaps photography might have been there latent and just emerged along the way. I have always been fascinated by the work of photojournalists and documentary photographers, for example, so initially there was a spark of interest there; it might have to be with how a story is delivered and the intent of making a change in someone’s life.

VH: What surprised you the most about New York?

EG: Last time I was here, I was seven, so in that regards I don’t remember a lot other than seeing the Statue of Liberty and being on top of the twin towers. New York is really a great city, and I feel very fortunate experiencing it again this summer. Coming from a small country, New York is big! I’ve only been here a little over a week, so I’m still trying to locate myself around.

VH: How has the SVA program been challenging you?

EG: We have four great faculty members that challenge us every week, and it is so inspiring and motivating. I am excited how they will give me input on the project.

VH: Tell me about your year-end project.

EG: I am only doing a four-week residency before I return to Oslo. The students in my group (from China, Canada, Italy, and the U.S.) have to do a project of their choice, whilst getting guidance and critique along the way, and I chose to do a photographic project on Norwegian descendants in Brooklyn and make portraits.

VH: Can you explain how your project evolved from your family history?

EG: My Norwegian grandparents (maternal side) fell in love when they met in Brooklyn in 1929/1930. Like so many others, both of them left Norway to improve on their livelihood. My uncle (who was born in Brooklyn) has told me that my grandmother was a housekeeper for a Jewish family in Brooklyn and my grandfather was manager of a general store (H.C Bohack). They both decided to leave the U.S. in 1935, mostly due to the fact that my grandfather was held up in the store twice, at gunpoint. Leaving New York on Stavangerfjord, Julebåten, they arrived in Kristiansand, bought a farm at Foss, Sør-Audnedal (now Lindesnes), settled down and had four more children, one of them being my mother. I unfortunately never got to met my grandfather as he passed away, but every summer we would visit my grandmother at Foss, being one of many fond childhood memories.

VH: I understand you’re asking each of your subjects to chose a significant Norwegian place to take their portrait?

EG: Well, the summer residency challenges us to work on different approaches on a project or an idea. We have several critique sessions every week from different faculty and guest lecturers, and what’s exciting with a creative process (in photography and any other creative arenas) is that a project seldom becomes what the first idea was. What this project will evolve itself into relies on the process. However, still early in the project, I have for example asked if the subject has a significant location in Brooklyn they feel a connection to, so it would be an idea to tie in.

VH: Is place important to this project?

EG: Not necessarily, however it’s a valid ingredient for the project. I chose Brooklyn, mostly because my grandparents met here, but also due to time constraints and the resources of my stay. I might include other “ingredients”—not only locations, maybe something else too. I still have a couple of weeks left.

VH: Is there anything you’d like to add?

EG: Although it’s still early in the process, I would like to thank everyone that has already shown their interest in the project, and I hope to include as many as I can possibly see in the short period of time. Tusen takk!

To see more of this project, visit www.evagodager.com, where she will soon be posting images and text from the one-night-only show at SVA.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 9, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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