Oskar Barnack Award Winner Jens Olof Lasthein

Jens Olof Lasthein is the winner of the Oskar Barnack Award 2010 for his portfolio ‘Waiting for the future – pictures from Abkhazia’. The international jury sought to find a series of photographs in which a photographer perceives and documents the interaction between man and the environment with acute vision and contemporary style – creative, groundbreaking and unintrusive. This award carries on the tradition of Oskar Barnack, inventor of the Leica, whose photography of the floods in Wetzlar in 1920 is now considered the first reportage series shot with a 35 mm still frame camera. Here is an interview by Helen Todd, a Leica Internet Team member, with Jens Olof Lasthein on his winning series.

Q: What were you trying to capture and what approach did you take in this photo series?

The pictures are made in Abkhazia, one of the small breakaway republics of Georgia. I went there because I was curious about life in a country which didn’t formally exist: What is life like in a country marked by war, isolation and not recognized, with no or limited possibilities to travel abroad or having contact with the surrounding world? How do you plan for the future when the future is so unclear? I have not tried to give any specific answers to these questions, but these thoughts affected me when I was working. I believe they are somehow visible in the pictures. Maybe the series captures a universal theme since the state of mind of having lost track in life is familiar to many of us.  Being there I got this dual feeling of being a total outsider as well as being strangely attached to the place and the people, which all together gave me a very good working energy.

Q: Known for your panoramic photographs and documentary photography, what does photography mean to you?

I understand the term as a means of subjective expression taking a starting point in the reality of the surrounding world. What I try to do is to understand both what goes on among other people and inside myself, and I find photography a very good way of achieving both at the same time. It works the best when I am at a place and among people I’m curious about; when there are things I understand as well as things that mystify me; where I feel at home as well as being a stranger; when I’m safe and unprotected at the same time – then there is a good chance that the necessary magic will come out when I start working.

Q: What camera did you use?

A: The pictures are made with my old and favorite camera, the panoramic Widelux, which works with a paning lens, covering 140°, on normal 135 mm color negative film.

Q: What does winning the Oskar Barnack Award mean to you?

A:  Of course I’m honored to win this award, to be part of this tradition and in  such a noble company of the former winners. And especially after having seen how many other good photographers were participating.

Jens Olof Lasthein was born in Sweden and grew up in Denmark. Before he was educated at the Nordic Photoschool in Stockholm 1989-92, he worked in a shipyard and as a bus driver and then traveled throughout Asia and eastern Europe.  Ever since 1992 he has been working as a freelance photographer within the field of documentary photography. His two major exhibitions that are also both available as books include Jens’ ‘Moments in Between’ and ‘White Sea, Black Sea’. To learn more about Jens Olof Lasthein, please visit his website www.lasthein.se or www.lasthein.com.