British born, Norway based Dan Mariner’s work is undoubtably amongst the strongest within the current generation of emerging British practitioners. Walking the line between documentary and fine art practices, his images are direct as they are subtle, honest as they are ruminative; bound to tradition but shaped by the contemporary…
Dan Mariner: Greetings.
Dorrell Merritt: Hey man, right on time.
Dan Mariner: (sunglasses emoji).
Dorrell Merritt: Although this is probably the most anticipated interview for SEED thus far, with us both having clashing schedules, it’s also the one prepared in the least amount of time, so bear with me- it’s been a funny few days, rounded off with a friday spent pressing meat-pies! Anyhow, tell me a little about Norway; how long have you been there and did you relocate for a particular project, or for your photographic practice in general?
Haha pressing meat pies sounds like an interesting job. I have lived in Norway for just over a month now. My girlfriend is Norwegian and I live with her in a small city called Bodø: a port city situated just over 100 km inside the Arctic Circle. The surrounding land/seascapes are breathtaking and I fell in love with the place straight away. We decided to relocate from London as we wanted to focus more on our practice as artists and both felt like the current economic climate in London is not conducive to making art. We both feel as if London is a fantastic place to learn from and grow your network of contacts, however in terms of a long term artistic career, we needed to live in a place were the work/life dynamic is more balanced. We miss the cultural diversity of the city, but we are only a short flight away and as the Norwegian contemporary art scene is so strong, we are delighted to be a part of it.
Right by the sea too, sounds pretty amazing. I can totally relate to the struggles and perils of somewhere so opportunistic and yet, so greedy as London is. How have you found adjusting to the difference in culture and language?
I’m adjusting well to the changes, partly because my girlfriend has slowly introduced me to the culture and I’ve been preparing for a while. I really admire the Norwegian culture; they have a beautiful awareness and appreciation of nature, their country and traditional values. Lots of emphasis is placed on work-life balance which creates a really relaxed and calm society. In terms of language, I am currently learning Norwegian and can get by at a basic level. Most Norwegians speak perfect English and are extremely accommodating towards me as I get up to speed with the language.
So how would you greet someone informally in Norsk, for example?
The Norwegian language is like the Norwegian mentality: very straight to the point, so it would usually be just a swift “Heia”.
Interesting! How would one say ‘No’? I was thinking the other day that basic Yes’ and No’s are similar through lots of european countries that aren’t directly linked i.e Scots Gaelic- Nae/Aye,German, Nein/Ja
It is Nei here too. There are many parallels that can be draw with Scandinavian languages and European languages. Structurally they are quite different but some words are very similar.
Yeah for sure; I think more isolated places have language links because of early seafarers. I know Scotland and Liverpool have a few for example… I’ve also seen that you often collaborate with your girlfriend (Marianne Bjørnmyr) quite a lot. Do you work on projects in tandem, as well as publications/exhibitions?
With her being my girlfriend and us both living and breathing visual art, we are alway bouncing ideas and concepts off each other. In terms of serious collaborations, we tend to keep our personal practice separate but collaborate on smaller projects like publications and commissions. We are actually, currently working on a art book project that focuses on the mineral, Salt. As Salt itself is so intrinsic to the photographic process, we’re interested in how the two come together to document history. Once all the submitted material for the project’s open call is gathered, we’ll curate the images into a book which will be published later this year. So far we have had some incredible submissions from as far afield as Argentina! (If anyone is interested in submitting for this you can find more details here).
It’s funny you mention Salt as I was just looking at the works of Ilyes Griyeb who has been documenting the Salt industry in Senegal. It looks/seems like one of the more under-looked mining industries in photography, but with so much potential and amazing landscapes/stories to tell. Not to put you on the spot (not sure she will see this) but what would you say is your most fond series of Marianne’s, and why?
To date is would have to say it would be the series Shadow/Echoes. She perfectly captures the mythical nature to the subject both technically and conceptually. We met during the time she was producing the show and I had the privilege to see the project in an early stage.
So your series: ‘High Rise Honey’- where abouts in London was the project shot, and what was the overall aim of the project?
The series was shot in collaboration with the London School of Economics at their Central London campus near Covent Garden. I spent some time with them while they collected honey and recorded data from the hives. They were primarily focused on looking at how bees deal with living inside at hostile and chaotic place like Central London.
I also wanted to point out that I reckon ‘High Rise Honey’ could have equally been a 90’s r’nb hit title as well! Joke aside though, how do you find the titling process for series’ and do you ever struggle in naming projects?
(Haha) Yeah that would be epic! Naming projects is always a tricky business. I usually start off with a rough title for the piece that would evolve as the series does. ‘High Rise Honey’ was a fairly obvious choice for me as it combines elements of what the series is about. My latest project ‘Drake’s Folly’ was an entirely different beast altogether. I must have had about ten different titles before I settled on the final choice. I think that the titling of a series is a really important process, as it can be used as a vehicle to convey a concept inside the series.
I definitely agree. I liked ‘Drake’s Folly’ as a title. Folly in particular sounds archaic, and almost… like an Old English nickname for a local place of interest. You know like when like a Megalith or Gorge in the middle of nowhere have names like… The Devil’s Punchbowl etc. It sets the scene, with an element of poetic history to it. ‘Drake’s Folly’ as a project seems like your most lengthy and ambitious series to date. I think I first came across the images while they were exhibited at Printspace, but wasn’t fully aware of the project back then. What was the starting point for the series and whose story were you attempting to share through the project?
Nice analogy. I wanted to create a title that, as you said, set the scene for a historical tale. The starting point for the piece was OIL; I am interested in environmental topics that concern society so I felt it was a good starting point, given that it’s one of our most important and controversial commodities. I wanted to make a project on this topic for some time now, but wanted to steer away from the classic (Edward) Burtynsky approach of pretty pictures of OIL production sites and waste facilities. I wanted to focus on the ‘Genesis of Oil’. During my research phase, I came across a Town in Pennsylvania, USA called Titusville. It’s often billed as the town in the ‘Valley that changed the world’ due to the fact that in 1859 a man called Edwin Drake became the first person to commercially extract the crude oil that seeps from the ground in the area. This discovery paved the way for the modern petroleum industry and kickstarted the industrial revolution, thus changing the world forever. I wanted to focus on the struggle that Drake encountered during his efforts of oil extraction while photographing key sites and people of importance left behind today. I also wanted to show the incredible regenerative power of nature and its ability to heal itself over time. As I retraced the steps of the early OIL industry, I found it hard to imagine the massive feat of human endeavour that took place over 150 years ago.
And how did you find the planning process? Did it take several trips to the States to complete it entirely?
As for all of my projects, I like to engage in an intensive period of research prior to taking the idea forward. I really like to check the feasibility of the idea and whether or not it will be relevant and worth investing considerable time and money into it. We all want to make projects that interest us, but it’s always worth considering the practicalities first. Once the research period had finished, I set about contacting the relevant people of the ground in Titusville to set up guides and meetings with historical groups. I then set about the logistical side of the project by booking flights, cars, and accommodation. I spent just under 3 weeks in the area carrying around my Large Format camera and changing dark slides in a small motel.
It was shot on Large Format! Bloody Hell- I know how heavy and troublesome they can be. Is Drake’s legacy still present in such a tiny place as Titusville, even after having changed this epoch of human civilisation so drastically, so long ago?
Yes, primarily Large Format. I also had my Medium Format came on me for more spontaneous moments. I became know as that crazy British guy with a huge camera. The inhabitants of the town are hugely proud of Drake’s legacy. They are proud of how his work has changed civilisation for better or worse.
And do you feel a sense of pride, having completed such an extensive project in such a brief amount of time?
Yeah of course, but its all down to planning at the end of the day. I made it a hell of a lot easier for my self by implementing a rigorous planning strategy from the get-go. However, I was lucky with the weather and the people that helped me during the process both at home and on location. You also have to be technically confident in order to delivery imagery in the knowledge that you only really have one opportunity to do so.
Onto the topic of politics… I sometimes feel as if photography seems so troubled; whimsical articles praising exhausted fads, mundane online arguments, questionable ethics by competitions and sponsors alike. What as an artist frustrates or annoys you, about the photographic world?
Great question; I think, like any segment of society and culture there will be fads, imitators and hype and the photography scene is just another reflection of society. I think the main gripe I have with the photographic scene is regarding paying artists. Photographers are their own worst enemy at times, as they often sacrifice paid work for exposure. We collectively need to stand up to financial inequality and push for standardised pay structures. I think The U.K. has a massive problem with this issue and needs to address it quickly if they want to maintain their stature within the art world. You raise the point about sponsorship and competitions; I personally think long and hard about whether or not to enter fee based competitions because I’m a big advocate of artistic work being judged on merit and not on the ability to be able to pay for an entry. It really is just another form of elitism. Conversely however, I understand that there are going to be costs associated with running a competition but to charge £30, £40, £50 for an entry is a joke in my opinion and really saddens me that once again capitalism is getting in the way of art. Like many sectors nowadays, the photography scene and photographers are struggling to monetise their activities. This comes with the inevitable pitfalls and ethical dilemmas that need to be addressed ethically and fairly. I think if I had any advice for younger photographers thinking of entering competitions that are only going to profit from entries, I’d say to think very carefully before paying insane fees to enter graduate talent competitions. Go and make some engaging and strong imagery instead. Great work will always find its way to the top.
I couldn’t agree more. I got an email from BJP two weeks ago offering me 25% off my next entry but when you break down how much they make and profit from entries in total, surely the costs should be halved- at very minimum. I guess though, it’s better to aim to be in photography for a long time, and not necessarily a good time i.e. the fame and exposure promised by these competitions actually isn’t going to guarantee smooth sailing thereon (not that I’m in a position to give advice!).
Absolutely. I know a few photographers that have won major prizes at an early age and as a result, many feel a massive pressure to perform better than the last project. This has a really negative effect on their practice as an artist moving forward for the future. My mentality is that the slow and steady approach is best. Photography is a marathon, not a sprint.
Precisely. So, now for some happier questions… Im just going to shoot with a hypothetical. You go to your local bar and you don’t realise it but it’s Cocktail night. Everything except two cocktails are off the menu: ‘Screwdrivers’ or ‘Sidecars’. What one do you choose?
I’d roll with the Screwdriver.
With Norway being the official/un-official home of Black Metal, I feel as if I couldn’t not ask a Black Metal question! Based on the names alone, what would you nominate as your (new) favourite band of said genre: Darkthrone or Gorgoroth.
Darkthrone! It creates a heavy and threatening mood.
Yes it does indeed; though Gorgoroth are an intense band themselves. How would you best describe your Modus Operandiin a sentence of less than 10 words?
Impartial insights into society usually left uncovered by commercial media.
Lastly, what are Sundays best spent doing?
Enjoying a lazy breakfast, Macchiato, Aftenposten magazine (Like FT Weekend mag), exploring nature, cooking fish and relaxing.
Published Summer 2016.