Sarah Michelle Riisager: Freeze Frame For Real

July 20, 2018

“Talking about fear has always been important to me. It’s a big part of my work,” Sarah Michelle Riisager reveals. “If there is nothing at risk, it becomes too easy.” The Danish photographer’s latest series, Frozen, was taken while assisting as a videographer for Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol on a two and a half month, 7000 kilometer journey across Yakutia, a desolate region of northeastern Siberia where the temperature fluctuates between freezing and minus sixty degrees. “Frozen is an insight into my universe,” she explains, “a universe built on wonder, loneliness, love, and fascination.”

Recognizing that fears can strengthen those insights, generating more honest relationships with the people and places being photographed, she suggests that, ultimately, “we all seek love, trust and longing for more, no matter where we are in the world.” In Frozen, Riisager considers such universal connections, and through careful sequencing and pairing of colors, shapes, atmosphere and mood, welcomes the viewer to share in a voyage across an icy, isolated landscape frozen in the white light of her camera flash. “I was terrified of failing and not being able to create a story that was important. In the end, it is quite simple,” she concludes. “Do it or don’t do it. And that is what fear is all about. If it is important, we do it. If not, we don’t.”

“I’ve always been drawn to the unknown, and for me, photography is a lot about discovery. It doesn’t have to be a specific place or a country I haven’t visited before—most of the time it’s about feelings or memories that I wonder about. I have so many questions, and the camera helps me to go out and observe.” —Sarah Michelle Riisager

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“For many years, I thought that if I had a specific relationship with the person I photographed, the picture would be stronger. I know I have made a lot of strong portraits because I knew the person I photographed—they simply trusted me. But at the same time, when people know you, they also expect something from you. After traveling in Yakutia, photographing people I’ve never met before, it was still about relationships.”

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“I look at the colors, the shapes and for a nerve of intensity. I love what happens when you put two photographs together in a spread and suddenly it adds a new layer to the feeling of it.”

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“I don’t think it is always necessary to ‘feel the picture’ in the moment I shoot it. I’ve used a lot of pictures in projects I don’t even remember shooting. That said, I don’t doubt that my strongest pictures are made when the connection is there. I don’t think it is that different to photograph a tree, statue or human being. If I’m not curious or interested, it doesn’t matter. Not that it’s needless, it’s just all about being present.”

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“In the beginning, I don’t think it was a conscious choice to use flash. I’m pretty sure that it came out of necessity. I have always shot a lot at night or inside without sunlight, so the flash became natural. There is something interesting about adding fake light to a picture. I reveal myself, and I’m not just a fly on the wall.”

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This interview was first published in the Summer 2018 print edition of Juxtapoz