Project

Car Crash Studies: inevitable endings in Nicolai Howalt’s project

Being impressed by the blend of car accidents’ beauty and horror, Nicolai Howalt created a philosophical project touching upon life-and-death issues

Nicolai Howalt
43 years oldNicolai Howalt,
Art and conceptual documentary photographer from Copenhagen. Had his works exhibited in Martin Asbaek Gallery (Copenhagen), Edel Assanti Gallery (London) and a Bruce Silverstein Gallery (New York). From 1998 to 2014 published nine photobooks. Gets inspired by works of Ronnie Horn, Peter Piller and Lou Reed.

About the stories behind the project

I got permission to photograph cars collected by the police, but I had to be very aware of the anonymity of their owners. I had to work around all the personal items that sometimes were still availble in the car. For me the car crashes were also anonymous: they had to be in order to give me space to work. If I had known too much about the horror that occurred in these places I wouldn’t have been comfortable enough.

I have never been interested in stories behind these cars – it was more important for me to create an overall portrait of this mental state we feel while watching these interiors. It is about the contradiction, the ambiguity we feel as spectators: not being able to grasp the situation but still being involved by looking at it. I’m not interested in the concrete situations, or the exact date they happened. For me it’s more about the overall trauma we have: car crashes can happen anywhere, everyday, just around your corner.


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About the aesthetics of death

I came up with the idea to shoot crashed cars after recognizing my own feelings while driving past an accident on the road, and knowing something horrible had happened. I think one can relate to this. We fear that something like this could happen to us as well, and we know we shouldn’t be watching. But we’re also fascinated by the horror of the situation and are drawn to look at it. This contradiction, between fear and attraction is what inspired me to photograph the aftermath of such accidents.

The thing about endings is: they’re also beginnings. Endings mark a period in time, after an ending there isn’t nothing: something new will start, perhaps often we’re unsure of what exactly. An ending is always more complex than it seems.

The aesthetics of death makes me see that there is more underneath the surface. I don’t know what the audience sees in it, this is up to them.


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About self-publishing and new project

It is very important to remember how the graphic design of your book follows the line of your photography while creating a photobook. Every project should be looked at individually before designing a book out of it. For the last five years or so I’ve been working with the same graphic designer, this way my books are in cohesion, their style is recognizable. I don’t like to think of which project or book was the most important or successful — I hope that my next project will be absolutely the most interesting.

My newest project is called «Light Break». It revolves around the work of the doctor and Nobelprize winner Finsen, who has played an important role in the medical history, dated in the beginning of 1900. In a revolutionary way he treated patients who had skin diseases, using light therapy. By photographing with the lenses that he used for this purpose, I try to relate to the healing effect of the sun, just as the abstractness of the light which we can’t see. I’m using filters to make an index of the colors of the sun and make this light and colors visible. Like an alchemist I work with the sun and filters to create abstract one off pieces that together create an index of the light. I believe it is in line with my previous project because it takes it’s departure in an existential question. It is also, just as I’ve done before, an interaction between the abstract and concrete.

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