The Artist Creating a Self-Portrait Through Her Lovers’ Eyes

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Photography by Jenny Rova

What might your life look like as seen through photographs taken by former lovers? Artist Jenny Rova explores, with a new photo book

Anders, Amir, Jonas, Henning, Étianne, Boran, Johan, Dan, and Bruno: it is no more than a list of names to most people, but at various points in artist Jenny Rova’s adult life these were men to who she was emotionally attached, sometimes in love with, and in the case of her husband, Bruno, continues to be. They are the Swedish artist’s nine significant others, from when she was 19 years old to the present day (Rova turns 45 this year), and for her project Älskling, which loosely translates as “darling”, Rova contacted all of them asking if they could dig out and share their photographs of her from their time together.

Rova collected a huge number of photographs, but 54 made the final edit for her book, Älskling – A self-portrait through the eyes of my lovers, newly published by b.frank books. The images are arranged chronologically, so that over the pages we see Rova grow from girl to woman and eventually become a mother, with the most recent photographs – taken by her husband – depicting her with their young son. It is a moving and intimate journey to participate in.

“My intention was to make a self-portrait made by other people [where] their way of experiencing me would stay in the foreground,” says Rova, who was born in Uppsala, Sweden, but who lives in Zürich. “The pictures were from a 25 year period. The work can be seen as biographical, telling a part of my life, but it’s also an indirect portrait of the photographer – the partner behind the camera.

“It was important to us [Rova and Roger Eberhard of b.frank books] that the person looking through the book had a straight [line of] communication with the person in the images,” Rova adds. “Flipping through the book, you are my lover, so to speak.” If the project, born from a desire to explore how we exist through the gazes of others, presents a photographic portrait of Rova and of her partners, it also offers a view of the role photography can play in recording tenderness and intimacy, and passion. “An aspect that is interesting to me is the special way of looking at each other when you are in love,” says Rova.

The photographs also serve as a reminder of the less desirable experiences and emotions that come with being in love – the frustration, misunderstandings, anger, and confusion. In one image Rova is lying in bed, and she explains how she had had a fight with her boyfriend, Amir, her first great love, and the man who taught her how to take pictures. It was only when looking back at the photograph that she remembered how angry and sad she had been at the time. The emotions that radiate from such private snapshots are potent; unaffected, raw, and gut-wrenchingly honest.

Making the project was an interesting but emotionally demanding experience, says Rova. “Mentally you make this trip and go through [these emotions] with ageing and everything… A lot of things come to the surface that you have forgotten. I was taking the worst moments, but there were also beautiful moments when I was happy and in love... [I’ve realised] – this was [and is] my life.”

Älskling – A self-portrait through the eyes of my lovers by Jenny Rova is available now, published by b.frank books.