It's Always a Compromise
Tine Bek - a Danish Artist and a Photographer located in between Copenhagen, Glasgow, and a residency in Italy, represented by Agentur. Tine has her MA and BA in Photography from the Glasgow School of Art, the UK. Tine's works appeared in numerous solo and group shows and exhibitions like Barok, Carlsberg Byens Gallery, CPH photo festival in 2018; As We Fall We Walk, House for an Art Lover, Glasgow International, 2018. Tine is a curator, a book editor, a writer, an art teacher, who has recently successfully shifted to fashion photography.
Tine explores the aesthetics of the uncanny, the discomfort, the awkward in space. Fashion shoots walk a thin line between the designed world of fashion and reality. Models are characters who do not play their part rather live their character’s life on set. We speak with Tine about her hometown and the love divided between large cities and nature of the countryside. We discuss the experience of teaching art courses, theory and finding own uniqueness, the freedom of experimentation in editorials, the importance of collaboration, and some street photographers.
Hi Tine, where did you grow up? What was your favorite children’s game you played with friends?
I grew up by the sea in the North of Zealand, Denmark. I went to school in a very tiny town, which might technically be a village. Denmark is pretty small so although we lived in the middle of nowhere by beach and forest it only takes about an hour's drive and you are in Copenhagen, so in a sense, it's the best of two worlds. As a teenager, I started to think my hometown was way too small and claustrophobic, and all I wanted was to leave and live in a big city where I could be more anonymous and observe life in a busy place.
It's funny cause within the last couple of years I feel this shift is taking place inside of me and my love toward larger cities is slowly being taken over by this urge to be close to the sea and where I grew up. I think it's fairly normal that this happens. You leave home, and after being away for a while, you start realising that this place you originate from is still a big part of you and always will be. I always thought I was a big city mouse, but I think at this stage I’m probably split down the middle, half city half country mouse. So the joy of moving back to Denmark in days like today, when I have some flexible time, I can distribute myself and go visit my parents on a normal Monday, walk the dogs and just forget about all the other stuff and focus on the small things.
When I was little my favourite things was to pretend to be a photographer :) Sometimes I would film with my video camera, like little music videos, or just my friends being silly. Other times it would be a bit more full on, and we would do a ‘fashion’ shoot, get all dolled up, wear way too much makeup, and I would photograph my friends. I found some of the images recently, and they are so horrible and amazing. My poor pals, and mom who had to put up with that.
You have an experience of teaching art. How is it different from creating art as probably you need to focus on the theoretical side connect it to the best practices in a specific genre?
I have been pretty lucky with the courses I have taught and that they have all been very free in terms of what I wanted to focus on. So, the scary theory has not really been an issue. It's much more in my own work that I pull out the big guns and try to explain larger concepts or ideas via my images. It's probably not always noticeable, which is good, but I always have some sort of more existential or critical research behind my work, and although I definitely don't always feel comfortable in a full-on Academia sphere, I find theory an essential part of my practice and flow. It is something I'm still figuring out, and the balance between heavy theory and artistic freedom can be hard to combine, without it seeming too forced or too easy. I think it comes down to the fact that being an artist today can seem very overwhelming and in a way, there are lots of responsibilities connected with the role. I talk about this a lot with my partner who has also done some teaching and is an artist, about the struggle between wanting to tell a story, highlight a problem while also engaging with an audience and not making people feel alienated. Most of my teaching recently have been much more practical and elementary, as in how to use the camera, ISO, and all that jazz, which I also enjoy because I think a lot of people take the camera for granted and forget all the technical aspects that go into an image. So to be able to make someone understand what actually goes on in the camera and understand and control their images is pretty amazing. I was never very technical myself, but since teaching, I really started ‘getting’ it myself, and I think this balance of understanding what you can do, and then making decisions about ignoring the rules is very important.
My own first experience with photography was very ‘not technical’, and that stayed with me for a while. I remember a teacher telling me that I should never learn how to take correct pictures since my strength was in this accidental and more intuitive approach. That stayed with me for a while, and I used it as an excuse for not learning things properly. Today I wish that I had ignored that statement, this is why I think teaching is such a delicate thing. What you say can stay with a student, so I think it's always better to let people discover things themselves and to be careful with using very bold statements about what one should or should not do.
"I always have some sort of more existential or critical research behind my work".
My former employer at a gallery said this amazing thing I'll never forget about curating and collaborating; It's always a compromise. I think that is so simple yet very true.
What is the main theme that preoccupies you throughout your professional experience? You have been part of several group and independent publications and had edited stories working between different mediums of words and visuals.
At this specific moment in my career, I'm at this new stage where my work seems to be going into two parallel yet very different directions. I am and always have been preoccupied with the image, the picture as an idea but also as something purely visual. I think a lot about this balance and how I see it changing all the time. Within my artistic practice, I am moving away from the traditional photographic ways of exhibiting and thinking. I'm trying to not limit myself to mediums and just let whatever medium that seems right be the force. I have of course done this before, however, I never let the photograph go completely and that is something I would like to try and explore more.
My more professional and commercial work is moving in a more fashion inspired direction which is very exciting and also extremely scary since it's a very new approach for me, and I sometimes feel like a fish out of water in this world. But perhaps that's a good thing :)
I started testing out fashion photography about a year ago now, and I have been very lucky to collaborate with some amazing people who have been a great inspiration and made this transition very easy. So I think a lot about this balance between the two worlds, how you can be creative yet have food on the table at the same time, while still doing work that feels right.
Probably because of my look and style I only have people approach me who want this for their product or shoot, and that makes things a lot easier. But the question of selling out or doing something that does not feel 100% me is always a struggle. My former employer at a gallery said this amazing thing I'll never forget about curating and collaborating; It's always a compromise. I think that is so simple yet very true. Whenever you decide to let someone else into your head, there will always be compromising and giving space involved in the process. I guess the key is to know when to draw the line and when to let more go. For me personally collaborating has been great for my sanity. Working as an artist can be very solitary and creating projects with other people is such a gift. I have learned now to never compromise on your gut feeling. If something feels wrong, just a tiny bit, it probably is.
Last year I curated a diary inspired zine about daily life for artists called September Seconds. I really loved working on that and reading people's entries all written on the same day yet in very different locations of the world. I'm working on doing a sequel to see where people are now, and as a way of looking at my own practice and time.
The everyday is a very important factor in all the work I do, both curatorial, commercial and artistic. Both writing and photography are excellent vessels to tell these everyday stories and can be so powerful in spite of their simplicity. I always love getting long emails from friends and since most of my professional practice has taken part in a lot of different locations my network of friends and colleagues is very spread out geographically. It's always a challenge to maintain relationships when far apart but I find it very beautiful at the same time. Friends who are far away, although I might not hear from them for a long time, when I do, it seems so important to get a long email, especially today when there is lots of social media action and communication going on. I find this very difficult and the way we communicate has gotten so challenging. I'm a horrible person at texting, for example, I hate it, mainly because I feel like such a slave to my phone when chatting or messaging, it's so time-consuming, and most of the time pretty unfulfilling, for me at least.
What is the most meaningful event that drove you towards an understanding of what is that what you want to be doing in life?
It's funny because that is a great question, but I somehow feel like I'm far from understanding completely what I want to be doing in life. I have ideas, and I go with them, but I feel like I'm always testing things, doing things that are new and scary, and learning along the way.
So one specific event did not drive me to where I am headed. But I think the most important factor, as I look at it all from where I am today would be my parents. I always knew they were pretty great, but within the last years and especially through hard times and creative or financial struggles they have always been 100% behind my decision of wanting to study and pursue an art career. And I can feel that they are very proud and happy for me and my choices. In a way that's the best drive they could have given me. They support, and although they don’t always understand what I'm doing, they are my rocks. So in that sense, I am very lucky to have the unconditional support :)
In your works, one can easily notice that lights and shadows preoccupy your approach to relating the story to the viewer. How do you approach the technical side of creating a set and deciding on the light?
Yea, it's all about that light. I love a flash but have been trying to move away from this just to not get too comfortable with the specific aspect of the craft. Daylight is my all time favourite scenario, and a perfect location for me is the 5th floor south facing apartment with huge windows and skylight, that would be the dream. I don't think I realised the importance of light in the beginning and I would be a bit scared of large setups and planning, but the thing is you can create some amazing situations with a bit of setup. As long as it does not take over and becomes more important than the actual flow and connection with the model, then it's fine.
For my personal and art work, I can be a bit pickier and have patience. For my still lifes, I will wait for the setting to be right, and the days can pass where I don't even photograph. For those photos, it's more about a sort of a breakthrough where everything is just right and comes together with the light, composition, etc. All that being said it sometimes only takes a minute or two, all depending on the situation.
We speak constantly about inspiration, while some artists think there is no such thing others know exactly the source for their daily inspiration. What is it for you? Tell about the process of conceptualizing and creating a new project or story.
I get inspired by so many things: writers, films, fashion, wildlife documentaries, you name it. It's hard to pin down that process I think because it's so individual and it changes a lot from project to project. I started out early on looking at specific artists and photographers, their style and their way of creating. I love Wolfgang Tillmans and used to spend a lot of time looking in his books. He represents the freedom that really shifted how we all think about photography. I also looked a lot at street photographers: Weegee, Garry Winogrand, and Joel Meyerowitz. When starting out I think, it's important to really study how others do it, and what you like and dislike about it.
Today I don't look so much at photography anymore, of course Instagram is a great source of finding new things and seeing what others are doing, but I try to keep it to a minimum to not get carried away or feel too overwhelmed :) Recent inspiration comes from everything to a colour or a material, which will lay the foundation and then take me somewhere much broader yet deeper into a specific theme.
"I find it very freeing to work on editorials, it's a way for me to test things and ideas, where the pressure is much lighter than when doing a project and putting on an exhibition".
What is special and unique about the scene of creators in Copenhagen that you are a part of?
I think there is definitely a vibe here, a certain mood that feels very Scandinavian. However, to be completely honest I don't know the scene that well yet. Although I'm from here a lot has changed since I moved away and I think the scene has grown massively, while still being small :)
I'm doing a lot of researching and figuring out where all the new arts' paces are and who is doing what. Fashion wise I think a lot is going on right now in Copenhagen, and it seems like the city is booming with lots of new designers and creatives who are doing very bold things. So at the moment, I'm excited to get to know the city again and all its scenes.
However photography wise there are lots of amazing things going on which I have been keeping an eye on. Lots of friends I studied with have started returning to Copenhagen, and it seems like there is a very strong sense of quality and ethics which push the photographic work here. So many interesting people all do challenging work I think.
You specialize in different genres of photography how different do you think is the story told by an object compared to a subject in a photograph when we take for example your shoots of ‘Spaces’ against ‘Portraits’?
I see most of my works as portraits, not always in a traditional sense, but rather as attempts that try to capture the impermanent. The sculptures I make, the people and things I photograph, the video pieces are all relating to the figure within the structure of time, space and context.
Not that everything is the same, but I like to look at everything with the same goggles on because I think there is beauty in that.
When working on an editorial ‘F is for fitness’ where did you start thinking about the story (were those image you already had in mind if the final product, the narrative you wanted to discuss, or a mood board you created)?
In art school sketchbooks were a BIG DEAL. The teachers were so persistent when grading us that we could pin down where our inspiration came from, and what our sources are. I studied History at the University, and the whole approach to how you find out things and holding sources against each other used to bore me so much. I thought it was pointless and annoying. However, now years later, I'm a bit of a mad woman for inspiration boards, especially with the fashion stories, I go all out and probably too far. I find it very freeing to work on editorials, it's a way for me to test things and ideas, where the pressure is much lighter than when doing a project and putting on an exhibition. So in a way I often feel like I did when dressing up my friends and taking pictures of them, it has to be fun and inspiring, otherwise, the magic is gone.
With F is For Fitness I had a pretty clear idea of the images. The mood board was around 12 pages long and very detailed. Although the poses and actual images and looks were created with the team I worked with I had given some hints to Caroline the stylist about what I hoped to get look wise, and luckily she understood 100% what I was going for and brought some amazing ideas that I didn't even have the imagination to think of myself. So that's the joy of working in teams, which is also one of the reasons I'm enjoying doing fashion editorials. You get to collaborate and create something new with a group of people.
What’s next for you this year?
Winter for me is always filled with paperwork, applications, moving house and studio while planning the rest of the year, so lots of practical elements make me feel a bit boring recently. On the positive side, this gives me time to plan and dream about all the things I want to do this year. Copenhagen is currently very wet, so I'm looking forward to spring, lighter days and warmer breezes. I have some different things planned exhibition-wise, but first I'm looking forward to a residency in Italy where I will be gathering new materials and doing some researching. Other than that I'll be going back and forth to Glasgow a lot this year, which is where I recently relocated from. So I'm looking forward to seeing friends and starting new projects.