Art & Photography / Culture Talks

Photographs of Małgosia Bela as You’ve Never Seen Her Before

Ten years’ worth of photographs of the Polish model comprise artist Torbjørn Rødland’s new book – a surreal and yet familiar portrait of a friendship

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Photography by Torbjørn Rødland, Courtesy of MACK

“I’m not a storyteller and I don’t believe an image needs an anecdote,” artist Torbjørn Rødland tells AnOther, when asked for a story or an anecdote from his time photographing Małgosia Bela. He has been shooting the Polish model off-duty, so to speak, periodically for more than ten years, and a selection from this decade’s worth of photographs constitutes a new MACK-published book, The Model. It is sequenced, he says, “pretty much in reverse chronological order, beginning with last year and ending in 2007,” and there is a telling lack of any narrative to it whatsoever. “In fact,” he continues, “I prefer the purity and openness of a picture without an accompanying text or story.”

Certainly this absence of context has come to be known as a signature of Rødland’s work – whether shooting a discomfortingly visceral and sometimes humorous still life, such as he has become synonymous with, or making portraits which plunge his subjects into a world of anonymity. In his photographs of Bela, though, this vacancy of explanation injects an enticing absurdity into Rødland’s portrait of their friendship. The book juxtaposes Bela the model – her immaculately made-up face covering the back of a rolled up glossy magazine, or looking down at the viewer from a larger-than-life billboard – with Bela the friend, ordinary, even if extraordinarily beautiful. She is captured having lunch, riding a bike, holding a vividly printed skirt from a jumble sale to her waist so as to see if it might suit. Which is not to say that these photographs are candid – ostensibly, through Rødland’s lens, no image is without an element of performance. But they do feel refreshingly true. Also: droll, strange, intimate, familiar. Here, he tells us more.

On the first time he met Małgosia Bela…
“We were invited to the same private dinner-party in Koreatown Los Angeles in the spring of 2007. She walked in as a bit of a complainer and so I tried to talk to pretty much everyone else there before sitting down with her. And when I finally did I found it surprisingly easy to go beyond small talk and connect.”

On what makes her such an interesting person to photograph…
“She’s someone you feel you’ve seen in photographs but unless you work in fashion you probably don’t know her name. Not to mention that she’s theatrical, funny, melancholic and very very beautiful.”

On their favourite thing to do together…
“Oh, we just lunch and make photographs.”

On the interplay between fashion and the absurd in his images…
“This book may think about fashion but none of the photographs in it are fashion. They’re mulling over this large family of photographic genres and strategies, from reportage to critical appropriation. Maybe fashion photography appeals to young people because they know all too well what it is like to be a leaky, insecure kid. All the glamour and fierceness of fashion can represent a new standard where you’re taking control of your own life to finally make it sing. In my images there is oversensitivity, failure, change and doubt. Something is being tested. Something is evolving. Photography is a ridiculous but also very important medium. I’m trying to make sense of it in my own way.”

The Model by Torbjørn Rødland is out now, published by MACK. 

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