© Martina Hoogland Ivanow
“Why do you have to go so far to take a step inside yourself?” This question formed the roots of Martina Hoogland Ivanow’s series “Far Too Close,” which juxtaposes images made in remote locations around the world with intimate photographs of family members and interiors made close to home. Ivanow’s first U.S. solo exhibition of the work appears this October through December at the Gallery at Hermès in New York City.
Ivanow, a Swedish photographer, began her series after observing that when she traveled, she would go as far away from home as she could. She was intrigued by the way physical distance spurred self-reflection, and she “started thinking about what [faraway] places meant to so many other people in a similar way—that there is a certain peace and quietness at the ends of continents.”
Over the course of seven years, Ivanow traveled to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina; Sakhalin Island, north of Japan; Siberia; and the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far northwest. After she made these journeys, she realized she couldn’t “define the far” without showing what is close, so she began creating photographs of family members and interiors from home. “This juxtaposition appeared and I think the project became more interesting,” she recalls.
In one of her images we look straight down on a rocky mountain range and its glaciers. In another we see the silhouette of a young boy who appears suspended by his waist in mid-air, his silver-colored sneakers shining. An old, boarded up industrial building rises behind a muddy lot patterned with snaking tire tracks. A man sleeps in a hammock with his head back, covered in shadow, as one of the lenses of his glasses reflects a circle of sunlight.
In her images from home her subjects loom large, causing the photographs to veer towards abstraction, while in her images from her travels she maintains a distance from her subjects. Using scale in this way, Ivanow pushes the idea that “one of the hardest things to do is describe the things that are close to you.”
The colors in Ivanow’s images are dark and muted, which she accomplished through her analogue printing and also through her use of shadow in her portraits. Removing color from the images, she says, makes it “easy [for the viewer] to think about scale.” In all of her work, “I try to get rid of [excess] detail to show just a specific detail,” she says. The strategy adds another layer to this body of work: Ivanow’s process of removing information from an image to help focus the viewer alludes to the process of removing oneself from the familiar to open the door for self-reflection.
While the project began with “thinking about the poetry of going to the end of the earth and falling over the edge into yourself, and thinking of it as a physical or mental challenge to yourself to go to these places,” Ivanow says, the work evolved to incorporate a related question about photography: “Why as a photographer is it so much easier to describe things that are far away than things that are close to you?”
In all her work, Ivanow says, she is drawn to images that convey a sense of ambiguity. “What it took me some time to realize [is that] I think something is successful when it’s not clear at all,” she explains. “The more ambiguous, the better somehow.”
For her, exploring and wondering is enough. “It’s great to remind yourself that you’re not really sure of anything,” she says. “Some people find that may be very stressful, but I find it more peaceful to be able to rest in the question, and try to live like that as much as possible.”