this photographer made a series from the perspective of all her exes
For her photobook 'Älskling' Jenny Rova reconnected with nine ex-lovers for 55 portraits from their viewpoint.
Photography Jenny Rova
"It’s pronounced elle-skling," Jenny Rova explains, gently correcting my bull-in-a-china-shop pronunciation of her new book. Shot over the course of 25 years, Älskling, features 55 self-portraits shot from the perspective of Jenny’s ex-lovers. The resulting work serves as a conduit for the tropes we all encounter when discussing modern relationships and intimacy.
Älskling is a memoir of sorts — the images rapid fire in chronological order — and we’re confronted with an anomaly of emotions and contexts, cast through the eyes of nine ex-lovers. From great loves, to one night stands, the series unpacks intimacy in all of its forms, leaving nothing to be imagined.
Where does your fascination with intimacy come from? Because it features heavily throughout your work.
Well, I come from the field of documentary photography, which I was studying in Prague. And then when I moved to Switzerland, somehow, I couldn’t read the people anymore. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Switzerland, but [the Swiss] are very clean; they’re very nice. So for me, it was somehow impossible. I wasn’t able to work at the time, and we didn’t have the money to put my son in day-care, so I decided to work inwards, with what was around me.
At what point did you decide to start on Älskling?
It was a bit of a coincidence. I was looking through my archive, and I just stumbled across some of these images. At the time, I was looking for images that were my negatives, but I stumbled across a few photographs that were actually shot by ex-boyfriends. It came out in 2017, but I really started working quite intensely on it in 2016. So it was quite quick.
What was it like reaching out to your ex-lovers to get ahold of the photographs?
When I went back to them to ask, there were actually a few that I couldn’t find. There was one, and all I knew was that his name was Ian, and that he’s from Canada. There were others too — one passed away, and one I could only have the images that he’d already given me because his ex-wife refused to let me into the flat, and his negatives were there. And one, I really had to have a long search for. It seemed that he’d disappeared, but in the end, I found him — and then he was very happy to participate. But he’d changed his occupation, and he’s not on social media — he really didn’t want anyone to know where he was. So you had all of these different stories, and maybe it took six months of detective work.
Was it interesting reconnecting with them; seeing them way down the line?
It was very interesting, actually. And I would say that this book is a product of the whole thing, because this process was one of the most important parts of the work — to reach back.
I read that your first great love taught you to take photographs. Can you tell me about that and how the relationship went on to inform your work?
He was an Iranian photographer, who had been living in Stockholm for many years — he came to Stockholm when he was quite young. It was a funny story actually, he had another woman as well — which I didn’t know. It turns out that he was looking to make extra money, and was hoping to sell his camera equipment to get the money together to support the other woman he was with, and the child that they were going to have together. So, he sold me his camera and his darkroom and he taught me how to photograph. I really liked it, and so I decided to apply to photography school, which he also helped me with, and I got accepted. So yes, he taught me, and I really loved it. After that, I just became obsessed with photography.
Do you think that studying intimacy has changed the way you think about relationships?
Yes, definitely. It is an awesome way for me to understand everything that has happened to me in life, and also, in a bit of a sarcastic way, at times. With Älskling, when I finished editing the series, I was so extremely tired. When I was going back through all of the images, of course, It was really funny, but it was also really painful. Because it goes back such a long time, you realise, that with age, certain things just aren’t possible anymore. You’re confronted with your mistakes, and everything you didn’t manage. But afterwards, you kind of just feel okay. After speaking to my ex-boyfriends again now, you realise after just ten minutes why it never worked out.
We often see intimacy in a positive context, but what I think is most interesting about your work is that you show the good and the bad. Is that intentional?
I didn’t really pronounce it, but when I was editing the series, the two conditions I had were that everyone needed to be in it, and that the images needed to be true to the relationships. Not just that we used the best images. It needed to be as close to reality as possible. Some were aggressive, and some were more sexual. I think you can tell throughout the book when the author changes, because there are different feelings and themes in the photographs.
‘Älskling’ will be on show at Sydney’s ‘Head On Photo Festival’ from the 4th–19th of May, 2019.