When Theo Elias (b. 1985, Sweden) published his book Smoke and people started referring to him as a black-and-white photographer, he was convinced that he will never make a black-and-white book again. However, after some time, he changed his perspective when Pierre from Editions Bessard reached out to him a year ago to do a joint risograph publication. Elias knew that he has a huge body of work ready in his archive – an autobiographical project done between 2016-2017. In the time being aging like good wine and originally consisting of about 300 photographs, Elias faced a challenge from Bessard – he was required to fill only 40 pages as that is the format for the publications part of the l’Atelier RisoGraphique collection. The result of this collaboration became Fåglarna, translating from Swedish to “The Birds”.
As Elias told me during our phone conversation, the book encapsulates his long-distance relationship that sparked many travels in order to meet his partner. As a result of different time zones, constantly changing environments, and the instability of the relationship itself, the photographer developed serious sleeping problems. Sometimes, he didn’t sleep for days and could no longer distinguish between dreams and reality. Reflecting on these circumstances, he presents his viewers with grainy and fragmented riso collages. His photographs are laying over each other and by having them in high contrast and purely monochrome, they reach a certain form of transparency which makes them blend as one while remaining fragmented at the same time.
As Elias reflects on the period: “I’ve started having these recurring dreams. They make me detached, and some days I’m not sure what’s real anymore.” In Fåglarna, landscapes are intertwined with portraits and abstract self-portraits to document the author’s sleep patterns by means of long exposure throughout the night. The places and people become mere traces after all as the publication is de-centralized from any form of specificity. Through his postproduction techniques, we begin to understand that Elias is not presenting us with reality but rather with an inter-state when the brain is awake but the body is asleep. This state between dreaming and being awake becomes a point of confusion, an intersection between fiction and reality.
Elias also uses black spray paint to disorient the viewer even further. For instance, he adopts it on his own portrait, using the paint to cover his eyes. This choice can be understood as a form of disconnection from oneself and others. Reaching the point of no longer comprehending your own reality while not allowing anybody else to enter your realm either…
This deeply psychological and introspective journey touches upon the direct emotional aspect of photography. Fåglarna became a form of renewal and reinvention for the artist, leading to emotional release and finally catharsis. Even though Elias recalls that it was a difficult process for him to go back to the archive, he still considers it to be therapeutic and done with a sense of urgency that required some distance. His mind drifted, returned, and settled.
Fåglarna is available for purchase here.
is a Swedish artist and photographer educated at Valand Academy of Fine Arts and Nordic School of Photography. His work contains a strong autobiographical dimension, that is often long term and stretches over several years. His debut book ‘Smoke’ was in 2019 the winner of Photo London & La Fabrica Dummy Award, and was in 2020 nominated for the Swedish Photobook Award. His second book ‘Red / January 2021’ was nominated for the Lucie Photo Book Prize 2021. Fåglarna is his third monograph.
is a Paris-based independent publishing house created by Pierre Bessard in 2011. Focusing on working with artists, writers, and curators to realize intellectually challenging projects in a book form.