The Danish-Swedish artist Matilde Søes Rasmussen has been photographed a lot. This is partly since it’s a requirement of her job – she has worked as a model for over a decade – and partly because she has employed herself as a recurring subject in her own work, which explores how the representation and perception of self can be controlled and understood through photography. In recent projects Rasmussen has reworked a personal archive of videos recorded at castings (Matilde S, 2022) and recreated existing fashion photographs of herself, this time substituting luxury garments with body paint and found garments (Copy, 2022), further adding to her image-led investigations.
In 2021, Rasmussen released her debut book Unprofessional to critical acclaim, which was shortlisted for the Rencontres d'Arles Photo Text Award that year. Now, the work – which combines diaristic photography, self-portraiture and text documenting her career as a model – has recently gone on show as an exhibition at the Centrum För Fotografi in Stockholm. Rasmussen’s seemingly ever-changing character is seen in the multitude of portraits, alongside snapshots of model colleagues and the everyday scenarios they find themselves in. “I am into figuring out the personas we present ourselves as to the world, the grand play we all put up to survive,” she explains.
Below, we spoke with Matilde to discover the role that dark humour has in the work, and how her perception of herself has changed through modelling and photography.
Adam Murray: Unprofessional was first published as a photobook in 2021. What new opportunities does the exhibition at Centrum för Fotografi give you for presenting this work?
Matilde Søes Rasmussen: A room with white walls and crispy light! Where the book is kind of a messy affair in both picture and text, the room will feel a lot calmer. I’ve even been afraid that it’s too calm – is it conservative? But I think it’s also important to give the work the space it deserves, and CFF is a beautiful space that simultaneously runs as an organisation for photographers. For me personally, it is a chance to celebrate this work and to close a chapter. I’ve been modelling for 15 years this February, and it feels pretty full circle to open my first institutional solo exhibition with exactly this body of work that focuses so much on my years of modelling.
“I’ve learnt how to be a professional, to play a role, but I still feel like an outsider in modelling and fashion” – Matilde Søes Rasmussen
AM: In a previous interview, you said you “were relieved when a friend texted me saying she thought (the book) was hilarious”. Can you expand on the role that humour plays in your work?
MSR: It means everything in my work! For me, it’s just the only way I know how to attack. I am drawn to other work that uses humour as well, work that doesn’t shy away from being entertaining. We’re here to give a show aren’t we! My next publication is about performance because I recently started working backstage at a theatre, but also the different kinds of performance that we encounter in our daily lives but never consider. I am into figuring out the personas we present ourselves as to the world, the grand play we all put up to survive. And there’s a lot of very dark humour hidden there!
AM: As well as working as a model for over a decade, you have been active with photography for a similar period. How has your understanding of what you want to do with photography developed during this time?
MSR: Like all photographers, I love to hate on photography, and then days later I will get this strong sense of wanting to photograph something I see, or I think about a series I want to do of a friend. And then I have to admit to myself, I really like the medium. But I also write and I make films and those are my three tools and they are all necessary. I am not satisfied with either, so I need them all. Words have the ability of being able to punctuate a photograph, to kill the poetry. Film has the ability to erase the decisive moment, and I make use of those methods a lot. The melancholy and seriousness of photography scares me.
AM: How has modelling changed your perception of yourself?
MSR: It has shaped me because it has allowed me into places where I otherwise didn’t belong, and still feel like I don’t belong after 15 years. I’ve learnt how to be a professional, to play a role, but I still feel like an outsider in modelling and fashion.
AM: How has photography changed your perception of yourself?
MSR: Quite literally I have a very well-documented progression of what my face and body look like at different ages. For now it’s fun, but I’m scared it will come back to haunt me in the future!
AM: Examining the production of fashion images is a core concern of Unprofessional as well as your other recent projects Copy and Matilde S. What are your thoughts on contemporary fashion images?
MSR: Photographing someone requires so much attention! The literal absence of breathing in that moment when you shoot the good shot, I think a lot of photographers can relate to that. I feel super strong with the camera. And I think that’s also a little scary. What is that about? Maybe it’s about power and control, and I think a lot of photographers might be able to relate to that too. At least I keep returning to that, and keep questioning the role and the awareness of the photographer, especially in relation to a model – not a fashion model, just anyone who’s in front of a camera.
And that questioning of hierarchy is something that maybe lacks in the production of contemporary fashion images – in fact I think it might be intrinsic to fashion image making, to not think about those hierarchies of power in fashion – because if you think about that, you can’t sell things. And fundamentally that is what we want to do. But it’s so complex, the lightness of fashion imagery is so appealing and charming and I think it’s very possible to embrace some of that stupidity with warm, open arms and a crying heart at the same time!
Unprofessional by Matilde Søes Rasmussen is on show at the Centrum För Fotografi in Stockholm until 12 February 2023.