Biographic and didactic text for New York City photographer Tonje Thilesen and their book One Another (Pomegranate Press). Thilesen's work spans portraiture, still life and documentary, and has been commissioned and published by The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Refinery29, Feature Shoot, BOOOOOOOM, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Fotografi Magasin, The Wall Street Journal, and many others.
Tonje Thilesen (b. 1991, pronouns they/them) is a Brooklyn-based photographic artist originally from Oslo, Norway, where they grew up deeply influenced by a familial and cultural reverence for the natural world. Thilesen’s early interest in photography grew from adolescent introspection and a desire for closer study of their physical environment—a desire to see beyond what the naked eye could. But they also had an interest in documenting social phenomena. Thilesen came up in the punk and hardcore music scenes of Oslo’s socialist/anarchist east, which eventually led them to Berlin where, while working as a music writer, promoter and manager, they started photographing the DIY music industry. This interest in both the natural and social environment they occupy persists in Thilesen’s now established visual language, which merges elements of the earthly with the surreal, the mundane with the ethereal. Thilesen’s images are sensitive and tender, yet also bold and even radical; always rendered in warm, lustrous light that pulls the viewer into an at once accessible and aspirational dreamscape.
One Another Didactic
Published in 2020 with Pomegranate Press, Thilesen’s first book, One Another, collects photographs made between 2018 and 2020 across New York state, Pennsylvania, Norway and, most recently, Colombia, where the artist spent four months in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. The book surveys Thilesen’s vast catalogue and technical ability, drawing in works for commercial and editorial clients, as well as personal documentation of their surrounds, friends and family. Thilesen’s fascination with nature’s minutiae and its majesty is brought into sharp focus here; a macro frame of a brown ant carrying a torn leaf sits in dialogue with an icy mountainscape and a drifting starlit sky. There is also much evidence of Thilesen’s time spent bird watching while isolated to the mountains outside Medellin; there are slippery grubs illuminated in mirrored sunlight; there is a perfect green frog perched as if glued to the outside of a single yellow rose. Such scenes are interspersed with the human: a portrait of Thilesen’s anarchist brother in Leines, Norway, and of friends near lakes and trees. There is an upturned eye, its rich brown iris glinting in the sun. There are two lower legs and feet dangling in blue water, ten white toes poking above the surface. There is a glistening hand floating in green water, reposed as if detached from its body, yet living. There are hands lit red and gently clasping, hands holding butterflies, hands gently touched to mouths. There are plump, shimmering lips suspended just open to expose a soft gap of gum between two front teeth. One Another is an earnest and enormously felt documentation of existence. It reminds the viewer of the inescapable oneness of humankind and nature, our dependence on one another—as the title declares—and the almost tantalising beauty of such a reality.
Written by Emma Pegrum.