The Experimental Self – Edvard Munch’s Photography

Edvard Munch. Selvportrett foran egne malerier, Ekely. 1930. Foto: Munchmuseet

Edvard Munch. Selvportræt foran egne malerier. Ekely. 1930. Foto: Munchmuseet

Edvard Munch, a contemporary of J. F. Willumsen, was among the first artists in history to take “selfies.” He pursued photography as an experimental medium, exploring the dynamics of layered imagery, unexpected areas of disunified or undefined form, and shadows that replace living bodies. This exhibition, containing around 60 photographs and movie fragments in dialogue with graphic works, calls attention to the ways in which such formal strategies in painting and graphic works informed his exploration of camera effects.

Like his paintings, prints and writings, his amateur photographs are often about the self-representation. In his self-images in all media, Munch assumed a range of personae. From the vulnerable patient at the clinic to the vital, naked artist on the beach, he disclosed something of his intimate experience as well as staging himself theatrically.

Munch’s Photographs

Munch’s photographs

Munch took up photography in 1902, months before he and his lover Tulla Larsen ended a multi-year relationship with a pistol shot that mutilated one of the artist’s fingers. This event, and an accelerating career, triggered a period of increasing emotional turmoil that culminated in a rest cure in the private Copenhagen clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson in 1908-1909. After a pause of several years, Munch picked up the camera again in 1927. This second period of activity lasted into the mid-1930s and was bracketed by triumphant retrospective exhibitions in Berlin and Oslo but also by a hemorrhage in Munch’s right eye, temporarily impairing his vision. This was also the time that Munch tried his hand at home movies.

Edvard Munch. Fips på verandaen, Ekely 1930. Foto: Munchmuseet

Edvard Munch. Fips på verandaen, Ekely 1930. Foto: Munchmuseet

Edvard Munch. Mod skoven II, 1915. The Gundersen Collection, Norge

Edvard Munch. Mod skoven II, 1915. The Gundersen Collection, Norge.

An Amateur

As an amateur Munch did not exhibit his photographs. Yet to view them today is to understand another side of Munch, as his camera eye recorded both staged and spontaneous moments of his everyday. In his many self-portraits, we also recognize our contemporary practices, turning the camera back on the self, at arm’s length. He wrote in 1930, “I have an old camera with which I have taken countless pictures of myself, often with amazing results…Some day when I am old, and I have nothing better to do than write my autobiography, all my self-portraits will see the light of day again.”

Listen to art talk with Exhibition curator Pat Berman

The talk is recorded during the “The Experimental Self” show in The National Nordic Museum in Seattle

Buy Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is supported by:

Axel Muusfeldts Fond, Frimodt-Heineke Fonden, Ernst B. Sund Fonden, Dronning Margrethes og Prins Henriks Fond, Overretssagfører L. Zeuthens Mindelegat