The evocative work of Morten Golimo
Gorgeous, romantic, awe inspiring. These words fit the evocative work of photographer Morten Golimo, who recently had an exhibit at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church’s Trygve Lie Gallery. Although well known in Norway, this was his first show in the United States.
Golimo began his career as a journalist but decided to shift to photography about a decade ago. How lucky for us! Norway is such an amazing place that it can be hard to describe its natural beauty. Somehow Golimo is able to capture in his images these moments, the fluctuating light, and even the air that surrounds you.
In all cultures, folktales are used to explain natural phenomena and anomalies. Norway is no different. Here the mountains were created from trolls who came out in daylight. Shape-shifting water spirits, nøkk, whose name was derived from “river horse,” perhaps explaining the look of foam found in rivers, are spotted. Nisser frolic and hulder seduce. Golimo’s photos are seeped with these pieces of Norwegian culture, which intertwine nature and mythology, visually articulating what our ancestors saw. Reminiscent of the renowned Norwegian illustrator Kittelsen, whose images conjure fairy tales to life, Golimo uses a different medium to similar effect.
The photographer’s other strength is his ability to capture a magic moment, opening up all your senses, transporting the viewer into Nordic wonder. You can smell the sea air, feel the mist, hear the water’s rhythm. His “Blue Yearning” is a perfect example of this.
Although the Seamen’s Church exhibit is finished, his haunting work can be seen online, and Golimo has been asked to bring the exhibit to another New York location, which is still in the works. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to have this emotive artist speak directly about his work.
Victoria Hofmo: Can you speak about your early life, growing up in Norway?
Morten Golimo: I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood close to Oslo in a conservative Lutheran priest family, where knitting on Sundays and playing cards was a sin. But it was a safe childhood.
I had an above-average lively imagination, and constantly came up with “why” questions that my parents probably found challenging to answer. For example, I wondered; “Why can’t God be a substitute for Dad sometimes so he can get free from the church.”
I was alone a lot, despite my four siblings. I liked and still like solitude. I would climb large trees, find a comfortable position, and fall asleep. I was awakened by the sound of neighbors and family running around shouting my name.
I learned to play the piano when I was 5 and made great progress. But I stopped taking lessons when I was 12 because I was not allowed to play ragtime music. “You have to play real music,” my parents said. Grieg, for example. But when you are 12 and crammed with untamed hormones, Grieg is not exciting. Some years later, however, I began to study music for church organs.
At home they thought I should become a priest because I had such great oratory skills. Instead, I studied psychology, sociology, and social science, and became a journalist.
VH: How and why did you transition from journalism to photography?
MG: With the exception of two years in a finance newspaper, I have never had a permanent job as a journalist. Despite the fact that I still struggle with low self-esteem, I chose to work among the “wolves” in an industry where you have to be tough and strong, without the financial safety net of a fixed salary. Mostly I wrote travel stories and feature articles on everything from gene science to how to sew a bunad. But I also wrote portraits of top politicians and business leaders for a large financial magazine.
At 18 years old, I bought my first camera from money I earned at a summer job in a cellulose factory. Since then, I’ve been an eager photographer. Not very good, but eager. Eventually I learned to take good illustrations for my articles. As a freelancer, it was wise to be able to deliver both text and images.
After 25 years as a journalist and desktop publisher, I got an increasingly strong feeling that what I was doing had no meaning. I felt like a well-paid parrot. In addition, I experienced that the press less and less appreciated the good story and articles with high reading value.
I would not participate in this “click-based” race anymore. I would tell stories with light instead of words. Photography. And I would express my thoughts, considerations, and feelings, not just reproduce others. It was a tough choice that I knew would have major financial consequences. But I canceled all the deals, sold houses, paid all the debts and bought myself a small apartment. I saved the surplus so I had a little to live on for a few years, until I started making money from my art. I am proud that I was able to do that—to make such a dramatic change in my life despite being in my mid-50s.
Photography is storytelling. The photograph speaks to heart and soul instead of just intellect and brain. With my photographs I can fully decide how I will tell my stories. I am no longer a journalist who has to register and report. As an artist I just have to tell what I experience in what I see. It is so liberating and wonderful.
VH: How is your culture tied to your work?
MG: I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer to that. What is “my culture?” Most Norwegians have a close relationship to nature. And we spend a lot of time in it: hikes, camping, visiting our cabins in mountains or by the sea and fjords. Maybe that’s “my culture.”
In that case I can say that my photographs very much reflect my culture. I can sit by a majestic waterfall or a misty lake for hours waiting for the right light. If it doesn’t occur, I’ll come back another day. And it is never boring. While sitting there waiting, I can inhale the myriad silent forest sounds and smells. Light a bonfire, put on a coffee pot, and just be!
VH: In your recent exhibit at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, you spoke about time. Can you explain how time is tied to your work?
MG: I like to put it this way: A photograph is a sweet, liberating “lie” that takes us away from reality into a timeless room where truth is absent, where time ceases to exist and we’re allowed to see things that the eye cannot capture. Many of my pictures are long-exposure photographs. Everything looks different when it is taken with 30 seconds’ exposure time compared to one-hundredth of a second. Waves in a storm blur out and convert to a soft duvet over the shoreline. In photography time can tame the storm.
So my images aim to tell stories about Time. About Time that dwells in the moment. Time that dampens the roaring waterfall. Time that reveals the magic in the ordinary. But also about Time that never returns, never to be recaptured, and Time we wish would never pass.
Time is a powerful element in our lives. Time can soften the heartache of sorrow, conflict, and strife. My images can remind us that Time does not heal, but eases and transforms. Aware of its powerful existence, Time can be the transforming tool that enables us to move on through darkness and melancholy.
VH: Can you explain how Norwegian spirits figure in your work?
MG: No one believes in these mythological creatures anymore. But that does not necessarily means that they do not exist, does it? Maybe we are too busy to be able to see them? But what if they still are there, the vetter? Trolls, fossekall, huldra, nøkk, and all the other good and evil underground beings? That is what I try to show in my pictures. I often pretend to live many hundred years ago and try to imagine what my ancestors saw and heard.
So what I want to do with my pictures is to make people take the time until they can imagine all the wonders around, scientifically proven or not. Then, next time they visit nature, they will see it differently. More vividly. More mystically. More beautifully and richly.
VH: Your work is very evocative. How are you able to capture such perfect moments?
MG: Time, patience, and time again. And a good portion of luck and planning. And of course long-exposure photography. I also have to put myself in a state of mind that opens up my “imagination toolbox” so I can see the fairytale in the subject.
Some of the pictures are a result of hours or even days of waiting, trying, and experimenting. The eye can capture a lot broader range of light than the camera. Sometimes it is necessary to take several pictures with different apertures and merge them together in the computer so the whole range of light can be seen in the picture.
What is also important is to make the scene as simple and clean as possible. Every square inch in the picture is equally important—the foreground as well as background. As I already have said: my photographs do not report to the brain but whisper to the heart and soul.
VH: You mentioned that another gallery is interested in your exhibit. Where and when will that be?
MG: It is the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association, New York City. We don’t have an agreement yet because they are doing some refurbishment and renovations in the gallery this winter. But maybe in April or May. I have also received an inquiry from a small gallery/art dealer in Armonk, N.Y.
VH: How long have you been in New York and how has the visit inspired your work?
MG: I’ve been in New York five times in the last two or three years. Five years ago I decided that I want to have a photo exhibition in New York. To achieve that I needed to go there to visit a lot of galleries and artists, and visualize myself as an artist in the Biiiiig City. New York brings something out of me that I don’t reveal in Norway. Back home I am relatively shy and introverted among strangers.
When in New York I bloom. I can talk to anybody everywhere about everything. And it inspires me as an artist. New York drags the disguised hermit out of me, to air him and give him some social training. Then I can go back home full of the energy I need to cope with the solitude and lonely existence required to seek out the photography found in Nordic Mystique.
VH: Can you tell us about your future projects?
MG: First, I want to reach a bigger American audience—especially the Norwegian-American public. I am dreaming of getting known for my Nordic Mystique photographic stories.
I am working on a coffee table book with my Nordic Mystique pictures, with some lyrics. I have written texts about the technical and emotional process behind my work.
Another book project is to write about my journey from being a wild, insecure, and imaginative little boy to becoming a big, insecure, and imaginative boy and artist via hardcore journalism. Thirty hilarious, highly dramatic, and very personal stories.
These days I am establishing an art photo rental service. I will run a pilot project at a medical center. Instead of buying my photographs, they’ll rent them so they can alternate wall pictures over time.
But the biggest project this year is my daughter’s wedding. I have composed the bridal march, but there is still lots of work purifying it and making it perfect for her.
To see more of Golimo’s work in color, visit Golimo’s home site, www.mortengolimo.com.
This article originally appeared in the February 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.