Tom Sandberg


OSL contemporary is honoured to present this exhibition with Tom Sandberg – the last he would have the opportunity to develop in what has been a wide-ranging artistic career. Sandberg passed away after a period of illness on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014.

He worked diligently to the end, and completed his selection for this show as late as January 13th. The final collection of works includes motifs that have been consistent throughout his career and works that he often revisited during the last few years. Some of the photographs are amongst his most renowned images; others have rarely or never previously been shown. In total, the exhibition comprises 16 photographs from the period 1987 to 2014.

Tom Sandberg seldom talked about his own practice, but the works themselves communicated with a wide international audience, across generations. He will be remembered as a pioneer of photography in Norwegian art history, not least due to his uncompromising attitude towards the conventional, which positioned his works beyond traditional, technical and theoretical boundaries. His last production illustrates a characteristic will to continually move forward, as he embraced the radical and experimental without ever abandoning his distinctive, timeless expression. Sandberg related foremost to his specific, personal parameters of quality - consistent whether photographing on commission or for his own projects. He admired such qualities in other artists, and amongst the most striking photographs in his production is a collection of unique portraits of colleagues representing a wide range of artistic genres. Through his collaboration with the publishing house Oktober, he portrayed some of the most significant Norwegian authors, including Dag Solstad, who has written a text for this exhibition. The gallery wants to express its gratitude to Dag Solstad, and to all those who made it possible for Tom to realise his wish for a final exhibition.

I have often been photographed by Tom Sandberg. I think he has taken the portrait photo for nearly every new book I have written the last fifteen years. The first time I think that it was me who expressed the wish for it, to the publisher; since it has become a cherished habit. And with its fixed rules. But as an object one never knows what one’s letting oneself into. One turns up at the agreed time; as a rule it is at Tom Sandberg’s row house in Ekely, or by a wall, or other backdrop, near to where I live in Skillebekk and which Tom has searched out beforehand and checked the lighting conditions for. If it’s in Ekely we after a while go into the garden. It’s always autumn (autumn is after all called the book season); I am dressed in an overcoat and ordered to stand like this and like this and there and there. Then he snaps. Sometimes it can take hours, then I’m moved round in the garden in Ekely endlessly in constantly new places in the steep garden there, or wander round in disused parks and backyards in Skillebekk. But just as often, indeed oftener, it has happened that he contents himself with one snap. After having positioned me, a little wonderingly to himself, then he snaps once. Then he is finished. – Yes, that’s that, he says. – Are you finished already? I ask. Or: are you sure that you don’t need one more? To be on the safe side? – No, it’ll do.

And it did. And so I compare this exhibition here to being photographed by Tom Sandberg. A number of snapshots from different periods of his artistic production. To see and thereafter all at once snap. One snap, many snaps, till he’s satisfied. Till that which he saw has become as it shall be seen. It’s about the gaze. Eternalised.

One sees it’s like this he’s worked the whole time. From the peculiar street scenes with lonely figures in light and shadow a long time back, to today’s mysterious look at things. Nice to see the pictures he’s become famous for, and which for years, each on their own, have consumed him entirely, like the portraits, the cloud formation pictures, and the figures of planes, in another context. In good company, I’d nearly say, that is together with oneself, within the same setting. Then one sees that there are three things that mark all those photographs Tom Sandberg lets out. Texture. Mystery. Self-evidence. As well as the enormous joy at discovery. For example a fleck on the wall. Which forms a pattern. Which we can track down, and dwell on. In wonder’s thoughtful light. For long.

Dag Solstad, January 2014

Translation by Johanne Fronth-Nygren