Fryd Frydendahl: ”It’s like real expressions in staged scenarios”

 

Fryd Frydendahl uses her photographic work as a way to comprehend harsh feelings by turning them into magical beauty.

 

By Malene Enø

 

Fryd Frydendahl is a young Danish photographer living and working in New York. She was born in 1984 on the West Coast of Denmark and started her photographic career in 2005. Around that year she lost her sister, which is the tragedy that became the starting point of a therapeutic photographic project, where Fryd has photographed her young nephews as a way of staying close and honoring her sister and their mother. We had the pleasure of Facetiming with Fryd about Nephews; the newly released book on this over 10 years long photographic project.

 

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: What is Nephews for you?
FRYD FRYDENDAHL: Nephews has always been a tool for us to stay close. When I started the project, it was a way of dealing with losing my sister prematurely and being brought into a situation I didn’t really know how to handle. I had started photography, which very rapidly became my tool for everything, so I used it when my sister died and when my mom was sick with cancer and later passed away. It’s been a way of using artwork to communicate.

 

It’s really important that the project doesn’t necessarily document sorrow, even though it does stem from a tragedy. The project comes from this insane, uncontrollable beast that we weren’t able to do anything about. Keeping the project alive for so long has kept us in this really beautiful place together, and the work will always be a testimony to our trip and to my sister and my mom and all the people that have been involved in our story. I hope that the project will make it easier to talk about loss as a sad yet beautiful thing—because we made something really beautiful out of something that was not beautiful at all. And I think that people are so scared to talk about stuff like that. In general, the beauty about photography is that it can open conversations about a lot of things in a very subtle way. And then there’s something very innocent about using kids as well.

 

How have you dealt with the ongoing change in your nephews’ physicality as well as their identity during the decade you’ve followed them?

I don’t think I’m the one who’s following them: it’s more like we’re following each other. I think that is a pretty important distinction to make in this story of ours, because I want to emphasize that this is as much their work as it is mine. It’s been interesting and fun and educational seeing them growing into the people that they are. Andreas is on the verge of becoming a teenager and Mads is in young adulthood, which is also why I’m putting the book out now. They’re both on the threshold of new stages in their lives

Obviously, it’s a huge gift for the project that they go through physical development. What the project does really well is isolating their moments of growth and stages in their lives. As a photographer, I couldn’t be luckier with having these two beautiful nephews—it’s like, wow! Not only are they willing to do this project for me: both of them are also very photogenic.

 

How did Nephews influence your nephews?
Nephews is about our relationship but also about brotherhood, about growing up, and it’s about me growing up with them. I am very proud of them both for growing up to being open-minded people and never being ashamed or never really questioning the motives when I asked them to do a lot of the things we do. The project is a window to the world for them. I think that is the responsibility we hold to each other as a family. We show each other things that we wouldn’t see or open conversations that wouldn’t have been there. I’m sure that a lot of the time it’s been embarrassing and awkward to have an eccentric punk aunt who does all these weird things. The project also reflects my development as a photographer and what I’ve been interested in throughout my whole photographic career: me talking about not giving shit about stereotypes by putting my 7 year old nephew in a dress. Or giving his older brother a beak and turning him into a creature that can be anything. I think my nephews have a deeper understanding than other people at their age have about people that are different.

 

What was it like pursuing this project with two very young family members?

In general, my work is my life and my life is my work, so photographing them has been a very natural part of just being with them as well. Of course, there are times where I’m just their aunt and they’re just my nephews. And there are times when we do the photos.

I think with the two, it’s been pretty clear from the get-go when we would decide to do the photos. It’s always been us creating this together. And if there’s no consensus of them wanting to work at the time, we don’t do it. I hold a lot of responsibility because I started doing these photographs when they were so young. The photographs are going to live forever, somehow. I think it’s really important that it’s personal, but not private. They’re voluntarily a part of the project and I do see it as a collaboration, which I think it benefits from.

Are the photos planned or spontaneous?
There’s plenty spontaneity in it because that’s photography. You see a moment happening and somehow freeze it and you’ll create something out of it. There’s a photograph where one of the boys is wearing a fox on his head. That was me asking him to sit in this chair and I brought the fox out and it all became a photograph. It was like the fox melted on his head and all of a sudden I was like, “Oh, I know what we’re gonna do”, so obviously it’s a combination of things. There’s no photos of them just eating cereal in the morning or stuff like that. So most of the time, almost all the time, it’s moments that I’ve thought of before we do them and I ask them to create that idea with me.

Another example is the photo, where Andreas is wearing the dress. The reason is that it’s blue and it looked beautiful with this mattress we had in our living room. I asked him to sit in front of it and in that moment he was pissed off at me, which gives him this really distinct expression on his face, which makes the photograph. That’s probably one of the best ways to explain how the two energies come together and create what I think is the magic in the work. It’s like real expressions in staged scenarios.

 

There’s a distinct sense of playfulness and childishness in your photos. Why was creating this atmosphere important to you?

With most of my photography, I try to eliminate the things that are too close to reality. I am not above manipulating things. I photo-shopped text out of a t-shirt once on a photo because it was pointing to a time and a reference that didn’t had anything to do with what we were making. Or there’s a photo where he’s drinking an orange soda, and I made him turn it around so you couldn’t see the label on the bottle because I do like creating these sort of spaces with them where you can’t really tell where we are or when we are there. It creates this ”Peter Pan”-feeling, which is also how I like to see my nephews. These two boys have been dealt a really tough hand in life. They’ve lost a lot of people in a very early stage and there’s something really liberating about putting them in this world of Forever And Ever and playfulness. And another point that again underlines this not being a documentary is putting them in surreal surroundings. I’m not dictating any truth except the truth that we find in that moment and which story we’re telling at that time.

 

 

Done photographing your nephews?

I don’t think this is necessarily a dot as it is a comma. For the younger one, it’s been a part of his whole life and I don’t think he can remember us not doing it and him not being that part of my life, too. Not only is it something that’s created by only us three but this is also our sacred realm. As long as they’ll let me photograph them, I think I will. Maybe when the younger one is entering adulthood and the older one is a real grown-up, there’ll be a second edition, Nephews version 2.

Let’s see what happens.