Nicolai Howalt

Nicolai Howalt

What We Become

Photographer Nicolai Howalt here takes us through a selection of his spellbinding work, including photos of young boxers before and after their first match, abandoned car accidents and starry formations of ashes left behind after a cremation.

Howalt started photographing as an indirect result of his parents’ divorce when he was four, after which his father moved to Africa to live with his new wife: “During all those years when I was living at home, my mother didn’t talk nicely about my father…but when she did say something nice, it was that he was quite good at taking pictures.” When Howalt began photographing as a teenager, it gave him a sense of being connected to his father.

The series ‘Boxer’ (2000-2003) derived from the fact that Howalt has never forgotten his first boxing match: “(It) wasn’t about boxing. Something else was at stake when, at the age of 13, I entered the ring – and was all alone for the first time.” Howalt then set out to portray young amateur boxers just before and just after their first fight, and discovered that the biggest difference from photo to photo wasn’t the bloody marks but the expression in their eyes: “Afterwards, there was a sense of enormous redemption.” The boys are in their very own space where they have been faced with their own fears, and whether they have won or lost isn’t always clear.

For ‘Endings’ (2011) Nicolai Howalt took pictures of the ashes that are left when a person is cremated – 90 per cent of which consists of the chemical element Strontium, which is imperishable. Howalt was fascinated by this consistency and also by the fact that when he placed the ashes in certain formations, it looked like a starry sky, and an intriguing connection between stars and human beings arose.

“Are beauty and horror so far apart?” ‘Car Crash Studies’ (2009) is an investigation of the things that both attract and repel us. Like ‘Endings’ this work also deals with death. The pictures are of car accidents – some of which have been fatal. Howalt does, however, not feel that he is particularly obsessed with death: “It’s as much about life.” Moreover, he never knew exactly what the results of the particular car crashes were: “(…) the car acquired a complex privacy, which was transgressive to document.”

In his new ongoing project, Howalt has photographed chemical elements onto untraditional material such as plates made from various metals (that are also elements), e.g. iron and copper. Here the process of making is as important as the motif itself. As an example, Howalt uses his hands when handling the plates, which leaves clear traces on the artwork – which he appreciates: “Something imperfect is added that results in a different kind of ‘life’ that I miss, perhaps in general.”

Nicolai Howalt (b. 1970) is a Danish photographer based in Copenhagen. His work has documentary references but is also conceptual and installation-based. Duality, connections and relationships are all themes that describe his work. His most noticeable solo works are ‘Boxer’ from 2000-2003, ‘Slutninger – Endings’ from 2011 and ‘Light Break’ from 2015. For the project ‘How to Hunt’, which he made in collaboration with his wife and colleague, photographer Trine Søndergaard, he received the Special Jury Prize at Paris Photo 2006 and the Niels Wessel Bagge’s Foundation for the Arts Award in 2008.

Nicolai Howalt was interviewed by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen at Danish Art Workshops in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 2015. In the video, Howalt also discusses the solo-work ‘Light Break’ (2015), which you can learn more about here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/nicolai-howalt-light-eyes-cant-see
For more about Nicolai Howalt see: http://www.nicolaihowalt.com/

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Produced and edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015
Cover photo: Cropped version of ‘Boxer 8’ from ‘Boxer’ (2000-2003) by Nicolai Howalt

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Beate Grimsrud

    Who You Are

    A common thread in Beate Grimsrud’s novels is her portrayal of offbeat characters. Find out how the Norwegian writer wishes to broaden the spectrum for normality by becoming “a ladder” for all voices: “I suppose my aim is to include the outsiders.”

  • Sambuichi

    Why Hiroshima Became Green Again

    Hiroshi Sambuichi – one of the leading green architects of our time – here reflects on his hometown Hiroshima and how “the power of nature” helped the landscape to restore so rapidly following the atomic bombings during World War II.

  • Michael Kvium

    Circus Europe

    “It’s a constant pleasure for me that I can get people so worked up.” Join us for a studio visit with painter Michael Kvium, particularly known for his characteristic figurative imagery. He here talks about addressing contemporary issues through his art.

  • Chris Kraus

    Changing Lives

    Experience American writer Chris Kraus, author of the iconic feminist novel ‘I Love Dick’, in this passionate talk about the apolitical art scene and the challenges of being a woman in our contemporary consumer-focused world.

  • Laurie Anderson

    A Virtual Reality of Stories

    In this exclusive video, Laurie Anderson presents her prizewinning virtual reality work from 2017: “I wanted to see what it would be like to travel through stories, to make the viewer feel free,” the legendary multimedia artist says.

  • Paul Auster

    Unhappy Unrest

    Paul Auster is one of the USA’s most important contemporary writers. In this short video, he speaks his mind about the growing right-wing and Donald Trump: “I think he’s the most dangerous being that has ever existed in public office in the United States.”

  • Mika Rottenberg

    Social Surrealism

    She finds her odd “bigger than life characters” on the internet. In her peculiar, dreamlike video works they use their bodies as means of production creating what the artist calls “a spiritual kind of Marxism.” Meet the incomparable Mika Rottenberg!

  • Peter Land

    Man Falling

    Meet an artist who uncompromisingly uses himself in his art. Inspired by his own fears and anxieties Peter Land makes disturbingly humorous work, but it was moral qualms that were behind his groundbreaking video of himself dancing naked.

  • Mika Rottenberg

    Girl Power From Another Century

    Meet the truly original video artist Mika Rottenberg! Here she shares the fascinating story behind her take on Orwell's 'Animal Farm' – a work in which a group of women with extremely long hair turn things around – and take fate into their own hands.

  • Vigdis Hjorth

    I am not a Pretty Postcard

    “Writing is the relationship between head, gut and hand.” Vigdis Hjorth is considered one of the strongest voices in contemporary Norwegian literature. She here shares why it is essential for her well-being to be able to express herself in writing.

  • Yona Friedman

    Architecture of Trial and Error

    “Don't forget that very important cities today started by immigration.” Meet the 94-year-old architect behind 'L’Architecture Mobile', Yona Friedman. He here shares the story of how his years as a refugee sparked his desire to make architecture adaptable.