Albert Elm is a photographer whose career has taken him to enviable heights over the past couple of years. After studying at Fatamorgana school in Copenhagen and graduating from the Glasgow School of Art in 2015, he then went on to assist Magnum photographer Jacob Are Sobol. His work has been published in numerous established magazines, such as Photoworks, Vice and the British Journal of Photography, alongside various exhibitions across Europe. After publishing his first book in 2014, titled Elsewhere, Albert moved on to further ventures and placed his inquisitive mind on to his second photography publication.
What sort of life is this is Albert Elm’s ongoing photography series that has captured his thoughts, questions and observations of the world around him for the past eight years. The first photograph was taken in 2009, where the whole thing unintentionally blossomed into a personal exploration through the means of photography. “At that time I didn’t know that I was working on a book, or that it was going to be called What sort of life is this, I just began to work with a 35mm point and shoot to get into the essence of what photography meant to me,” Albert tells It’s Nice That.
The images throughout depict a hyperreal — although scarily honest — representation of life. Albert is drawn to anything he finds “bizarre, beautiful, odd, ugly and interesting”, or something that he thinks “tells a ‘useful’ story about living, or at least questions it”. After finding his muse, he then imprints a harsh flash infused with the grainy outcome of analogue film onto the subject, resulting in a mysterious depiction of that moment in time. “I don’t have a specific message or agenda. The book has come out of my own curiosity and maybe my own attempt to make sense of the world around me — or a way of giving things meaning,” says Albert. “I hope it evokes a sense of curiosity and wonder in people, as it’s supposed to be open for people to read in their own way. I’m not dictating anything, rather I’m pointing the viewers in a direction. Of course there’s messages in there that I’ve thought of and I trust that it’s apparent enough to read it. But if people see something else, that’s alright too.”
By keeping the format and curation of the book simple, the disjointed layout and misplaced segments in parts plans to draw a feeling of unease and a thirst for answers. Photography acts as a powerful tool in this way; to enable the viewer to decipher their own meanings and emotions, rather than take in exactly what is given by the person behind the lens. Albert plays on this concept in his book: “I thought that no matter what, people would read it their own way,” he explains. “I think that’s the power of photography and images in general; that it plays with one’s imagination. But it’s challenging to find the balance between being mysteriously open to interpretation and then being oblivious and demystified. I think the story is stronger when the surprise and mystery isn’t ruined by too much explanation.”
Set to release over the next month, What sort of life is this has been formed as a platform for Albert to channel and capture his understandings of everything around him. For this photographer, it’s an organic process and, like anything, is riddled with fun and unexpected surprises. “I think photography has become a way of thinking for me. When I was younger it was a way of dealing with restlessness. It still is,” says Albert. “I think a simple idea like ‘how does this look photographed’ keeps me going and every film I process and scan is full of expectations and surprises. It’s like being an obsessed gold digger. You never know what’s coming — It might be worth a lot. I guess it gives my life purpose.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.