Jan Grarup Interview: The Dark Side of the Lens

“Good photojournalism should not answer questions. It should raise questions.” We have talked to the award-winning Danish photographer Jan Grarup, who in this video opens up about what it is like to work amid human despair and suffering, about private tragedies, and about the personal consequences of documenting war and conflict.

“Using the aesthetics the way that I do, is for people to stay within the image. There’s nothing more to it. It’s not to make war beautiful,” Grarup says of how photojournalists can use the aesthetics to suck the viewer into the work – and hopefully reflect on it. When possible, he tries to stay with his stories and get to understand them, an example of this being his four-year project in Somalia: “What started with being a war story ended up being a very intimate portrait of some amazing people.” With time, Grarup argues, he has learned that a photographer should not distance themselves from what they are doing, but should instead take it in – and be present. As for when people ask him how one recovers following the horrific things he experiences, Grarup’s answer is clear: “You can’t.” In connection to this, he also talks about his personal tragedies, such as when his ex-wife – and mother of his three children – got terminally ill and subsequently died, leaving him with a heavy burden, which he tried to capture in a series of self-portraits. Moreover, Grarup acknowledges the enormous consequences of the life he has been leading but is sure that he wouldn’t do anything differently today: “I’ve been led into people’s lives when it was very, very painful. Instead of fearing it I’m trying to embrace it and put it in as another level of my work.”

Jan Grarup (b. 1968) is a Danish photographer. During his more than twenty-five-year career, Grarup has documented several of recent history’s defining human rights and conflict issues. He has been honoured with several prestigious awards from the photography industry as well as from human rights organizations, including several World Press Photo of the Year awards, two UNICEF Children awards (2001 and 2002), a Visa d’Or (2005) and three FUJI awards (1993, 1998 and 2000). For more see: https://jangrarup.photoshelter.com/about

Jan Grarup was interviewed by Barbara Gjerluff Nyholm at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2016.

Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Barbara Gjerluff Nyholm
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Cover photo: From ‘And Then There Was Silence’ (2017) by Jan Grarup, © Jan Grarup/Noor
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

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