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BUILDING A FRAME

Exploring the meaning of life through bricks and mortar.

PHOTOGRAPHY MARIUS SVALENG ANDRESEN

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You might begin to question reality when you first cast eyes on Marius’ photography - with clean lines and impeccable crops, his body of work paints a picture of places that seem simultaneously stuck in the past and drawn from a future metropolis. Some might call it the perfect shot for the gram, and he was certainly Insta-famous before that was even ‘a thing’. But beyond the surface, one notices a multitude of layers, careful and cautious social observations, and a deep respect for the world of architecture. He creates a world of marvel, leaving you to wonder where he finds his objects. 

We first came across his work many years ago, when he took part in a reality series on Norwegian TV - where participants competed in photography challenges using only their phones (at a time when that was still unheard of). We catch up with Marius now to talk about his travels across Eastern and Central Europe and the work he has created there, especially on his returns to Belgrade, Serbia. We find out why he is so drawn to Soviet-era architecture, and how it provides him a different frame to the cities of Scandinavia. He talks of humour, travel and whether a photographers tools really matter.

How did you get started with photography?

I've owned a camera for as long as I can remember, but I started consciously doing more conceptual work when I took a side course in analog and contemporary photography whilst studying journalism at university. Soon after, in 2011, I got my hands on a smartphone, which provided me with a convenient tool to delve deeper into photography. I haven't stopped since.

Do you work alongside your photography, and how do you balance it?

I currently work full-time as a copywriter, and I do some freelance photography on the side. I would definitely like to do more photography work, and I'm hoping to make that my full-time job in the future, combined with photojournalism and project-based photography. Everything I post online is the result of photography being a huge hobby and passion for me.

What first drew you to explore Central and Eastern European countries?

I have visited Central and Eastern European countries since I started traveling – excluding family trips as a kid. I have been interrailing three times, which gives for a neat ‘taster’ of many countries. Since then I've been drawn back to some of the countries out of sheer fascination – I guess I could go as far as calling them ‘exotic’ because some of the places haven't been flushed by tourism, since many people seem to overlook them as a vacation destination. 

Post-communist and post-socialist countries have something that draws my attention, and it is fascinating to see how some countries have developed, especially since the nineties. Architecture, which is one of my favorite motifs, is also something else in this part of the world, particularly the socialist, modernist and brutalist ones – such as the blocks in Novi Beograd in Serbia and the painted buildings of Tirana, Albania. The people are friendly and welcoming, the food is good and the beer is dirt cheap – which is always a plus.

"Architecture is a constant for everybody, and for me, it is also a symbol of life."

Do you use your iPhone or a different kind of camera? Does the tool matter?

I mainly use my camera, since I carry it with me all the time when I’m exploring. I use my iPhone from time to time because I find it easier to get the feeling of a snapshot in my photography. To answer if the tool matters, I would say both no and yes. No, because the best gear that you have is the one with you. Yes, because every tool has its limitations. Flexibility is important to me, and my camera's sensor and the variation of focal lengths help me achieve the result I want, crop the images as I see fit without quality loss and print huge ass prints of them if I want to.

You seem to mostly keep your distance from people, and rather focus on objects – does this reflect your position as a traveler viewing the locals “from the outside”?

It's a style preference, but I would like to get better at portraits. Nevertheless, I'm drawn to the candid and spontaneous, whereas portraits often need some planning and directing.

It doesn't have anything to do with me as a traveler, more of my general position as a photographer. I document people in my neighborhood and people on the other side of the world in the same way.

How did your interest in architecture develop, if there is one? Or is it just about capturing shapes?

My interest in architecture started almost subconsciously when I first transitioned from street photography onto more conceptual urban geometry photography. I found buildings to be a pretty motif and was drawn to interesting shapes and structures, seeing how you can change the perception of a building with different angles and perspectives. Over the years I have become a lot more aware of architecture and the role it plays in our lives. This quickly developed into a fascination for architecture itself, not only as a photographic subject but as a field of interest on its own. When it comes to photography, the graphic appearance of buildings and their shapes as a whole are still pretty important. It has to play a vital part in the story behind the image.

In some cases your images seem to give personality to inanimate objects – how do you feel about the idea of architecture being almost “alive”?

Architecture is a constant for everybody, and for me, it is also a symbol of life. You can see a lot about a society if you identify how people live. One of the things I like most about photography is when I manage to capture how people seamlessly interact with architecture, and the life people manage to bring into inanimate objects. There are testimonials of life all around, also in inanimate objects, often also when there's not a person present in the picture.

What role do you feel photography can play in terms of broadening people’s perspectives and horizons?

It goes without saying that photography and the internet combined shortens the distances between people with its universal language. You can snap a moment in time on one side of the globe and have someone observe it on the opposite side of the world in a matter of seconds, which gives a unique insight and a more accessible source of information on different cultures and other ways of living. It gives a more comprehensive understanding of the world around you. At the same time, it can document conflict, diversity, and challenges and make information more accessible, more real.

You have a large following on social media – does that affect how you choose to display or curate what you show of the places you visit?

I always strive to add my own perspective to the places I visit. I try my best to avoid the overly touristy spaces, well-known subjects and ‘Instagram locations’. Everyone has seen those hundreds of times already. Even though I know, to some extent, what works for engagement and what doesn’t, I try not to let my following or the potential likes affect or dictate what I share from a place or not.

How does social media affect you personally - what rules and guidelines do you make for yourself so it’s manageable?

I care more about social media than I would like to admit, but I spend less time on it now than I used to. My platform of choice is naturally Instagram, which seems to be slowly collapsing in on itself. It has killed reach and engagement for creatives, and has shifted this over to promoting consumerist fashion bloggers, coffee scrub influencers and glorified travel accounts – which is understandably demotivating when something that worked so well for some people all of a sudden loses the effect. It's the same for me as a photographer, so lately I've found the need to transition my photography into actual, physical projects rather than just living online.