Monty Kaplan


Nocturno is a long term project that spans five years and documents lonely nights across the world. It’s a subjective take on the documentary genre, that serves as a surreal diary

All my life, I’ve been lonesome. Not alone, but lonely. The distinction seems redundant, but one of the most common misconceptions about loneliness, is that it’s a feeling you get when you’re alone. Yet you can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely. In fact, being in company can often heighten the feelings of alienation that loneliness produces, which has been true for me.

Loneliness is a form of disconnection, that creates an invisible gap between yourself and everyone else, like speaking a completely different language that only you can understand. It’s impossible to translate, so it only feels natural to speak it to yourself.

Which is why the night has always been an environment i’ve gravitated towards. Since a young age it had been a source of fascination. I remember i used to sit in the dark of my room at night, looking out the window into my moon bathed backyard. It gave me the strangest feeling, like peeking inside an alternate universe. The trees and grass, acquired a ghostly grey from the soft moonlight, the branches from the top stretched across the sky in the dim light like black lines on top of a black canvas. It looked so beautiful and peaceful. And every night, after i was sure my parents had fallen asleep, I’d venture outside to my park to play under the moonlight. Some years later, and not without a sense of irony, i developed a case of severe insomnia. As a still preadolescent boy at the time, this really had a toll on my daily social life. Since i was hardly sleeping at all, everything during the day became overwhelming, the people, the noise, even the sun light became excessive to my eyes. It was like my brain couldn’t handle it, and i started to resent it. This was something that would ultimately shape the rest of my life.

That resentment slowly built over the years until it eventually led to a complete separation from that daily world. I grew up rambling through empty streets in the after hours, seeking for solace, but longing for contact.

“Nocturno” is the result of these years of lonesome nights. As i’ve navigated through empty cities and towns, fighting against the disarming feeling of being abstracted from society, the night provided me with the context of an empty world, an abstract environment i could shape at my own will and vision. A blank canvas to ultimately create, piece by piece, my own private universe.


Photography and words Monty Kaplan

Posted in Sin categoría

Leandro Colantoni 

Ultimo Paesaggio Siciliano is a visual investigation on Sicily, shot exclusively on iPhone.

It is focused on the symbolisms and clichés that characterise the Sicilian culture, people and landscape.

Tara Olayeye

«when I’m actually there, I’ll naturally feel aligned, because I’m not thinking myself into oblivion»

For Tara Olayeye, whose relationship with her work mirrors her relationship with herself, the practice of film-making has turned into an experience as meditative as it is creative. Her latest short film, So Natural, proves as profound in aesthetic as it is in prose & composition. The visual aspect is only a portion of the young Atlanta-based director’s crafts, as the poem she recites over the film is an adaptation of a song she wrote when she was 18 years old, which she re-appropriated from her archives for the purpose of the film. Her experience with music– singing and playing the piano– reflects in the care she has for the rhythm and pace of a narrative.

The production of this short film was a tough tango between Olayeye and the vintage 16mm camera she swears by. The texture and character of the footage shot on film is true to the attitude of the device. The level of attention and awareness required to shoot with it turned being on set into an undertaking of mindfulness.

Being drawn away from her initial inspiration and expectations, she picked up on the resonance of her own creativity. As So Natural emerged, she found her expectations exceeded by what it turned into, despite coming inches away from moving on from it. Olayeye’s latest project was the fruit of months of internal tides of inspiration which intersected between motion picture, poetry, spoken-word, and music. Patience, with herself and with her work, was of the essence. As she learns to trust her processes, she has been reminding herself not to give into doubt and fear.

Fear forms the roots of many of our expectations, as they manifest a need for security into the future. Figuring out how to let go of them becomes essential to tapping into one’s uninhibited creativity. Our apprehensions are often an architecture of our own mind, and moving forward and beyond them is the only way to embrace reality and discover the multitude of possibilities that may be, both in our work and our lives.

In constant creative expansion, the latest craft she has picked up on is knitting. Amidst the present circumstances, the therapeutic elements of art consist in much more than a practice: it becomes a philosophy and a way of life that nurtures and carries over into everything else.

Olayeye granted NR an introspective insight into her work, distilled below.

Between the visual, the musical and the poetic dimensions of your last film, So Natural, and over the course of the year during which it was shot, what was your creative process like?

I started brainstorming it in January of 2019, I had a concept that I wanted to do – I had a script and everything written out – and actually the final result of that project is not even close to what the original concept was supposed to be. Getting things set up and put together didn’t end up working out the way that I thought it was supposed to. Whenever we were shooting, there were so many mishaps and things going wrong because we shot on 16mm, and the camera that I was using, and still use, is a really old film camera, it’s – it has an attitude, so it was a little temperamental, and there were a bunch of hiccups that ended up happening. As I was trying to piece everything together, when I got the first rolls of footage back in the summer, in the way that I thought that it was supposed to go, it wasn’t working and

«I was almost about to scrap the entire thing, because I thought ‘This is not how I wanted it to be, this is a failure’.»

I walked away from it for a few months and realized «Okay, maybe this project isn’t working in the way that I initially thought, but that doesn’t mean I have to completely dispose of it, I can just re-imagine a storyline, re-imagine how I want this project to feel». So I picked it back up again around September or October last year, I started re-shooting and I had these lyrics to a song that I wrote years and years ago, I don’t know how or why it came into my head while I was looking at this project, but as I was reciting the lyrics, I thought «wait, this could actually work really well as a poem». It worked really well with the footage that we had shot over the past few months, so instead of the original script I had, I decided to use the words of that song that I wrote, when I was maybe 18 years old, and that’s where the poem is from. The music is one of my favourite songs of all time, and I emailed the record label that owns the rights to the song to see if I could have the permission to use the song in my project, because I just felt like it fit so perfectly. So that’s the story of the project. It was definitely a very unique experience, that’s not really how I’ve gone about making a lot of my film projects, typically I have a script, I have a very clear vision of what I’m gonna do, and even though things change and evolve, it still holds that same essence of the original concept.

«This project was literally writing itself and I was just there to be as open with it, and accepting of the path that it was taking.»

How did you feel about the way it turned out as opposed to what you initially had in mind?

I’m even more happy with what it turned into. It’s funny because as artists or creatives, whatever you wanna call it, we have– or, I’ll just speak for myself– I tend to have preconceived notions of what I want a project to look like, I’ll think «it’s going to be like this and like that» and the way the project moves, circumstances change, and the project just naturally evolves and what you thought the project was going to be– it just becomes better than you ever expected it to. So that’s always amazing to witness and experience.

It seems like you had a dynamic relationship with this project; how did that reflect with your relationship with yourself?

Last year was really interesting for me, it was a year where I really began to learn more about myself, and I began to realize a lot of negative patterns I had developed throughout my entire life. Patterns of perfectionism, feeling like I needed to control everything, feeling like I needed to know everything, and if I didn’t, I would feel like I was just missing something. It makes perfect sense that this project was my main focus last year, because I did a lot of self-reflection and flowing with myself and, like you said, surrendering a little, and not feeling like I had to control everything and I think that reflected a lot in this particular project because I went into it thinking I knew what was going to happen but then it just flowed into something completely different. It really showed me the importance of being open and not being rigid with my creativity, and understanding that art can in different ways teach a lesson and teach you about yourself, and teach you about life, so

«that project was definitely a reflection of my inner-growth and of being open.»

What made you inclined to shoot this project on film?

I really wanted to learn how to shoot film for the longest time, just from watching other people’s work, watching films that were shot on film, I loved the look of it and I wanted to try it out. I was fortunate enough to know someone who had a film camera sitting in their basement and they sold it to me. It’s definitely a learning curve– shooting on film when we have such instant gratification with shooting digitally– there’s so much we don’t have to think about, whether its just taking a picture on your phone or shooting with a cinema camera. Shooting on film is a humbling experience and it forces you to be very attentive and be really intentional about every shot that you make; you have to be really alert when shooting on film, which I think is a really good practice just in general

What nurture your creativity, and what inhibits it?

For me, patience is the most important thing. I tend to feel restless at times when working through a creative project because it’s easy to care more about the end result than the process. But every step you take while creating something counts for something. So staying with it and reminding myself that the pace that things are going is the pace that is meant to be helps me a lot.

I realize that fear blocks my creativity, I don’t believe [those two states can co-exist]: true creation and fear. You can’t [be fearful] when creating because what makes creating so magical is that you’re letting go of the need to know, you have to trust the process, so it’s interesting how I am a creator but at the same time I deal with a lot of fear. Wanting to create, and Create wholeheartedly, while having these underlying feelings of fears: fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear that things won’t work out, fear that you are wasting your time… It’s an interesting back and forth between creating and fearing.

The main thing is just going with it and within, not thinking too much, feeling my way around. Each creative flow is different but I guess

«the common denominator with each endeavour is being fully committed because I really do believe that as long as I Commit, I really can’t fail.»

When do you feel aligned the most?

I think I feel the most aligned when I’m not in my head. Over-thinking is so exhausting and it’s something that I have a lot of experience with. I feel like even when I’m doing something that I love, if I’m in my head about it, I don’t feel aligned. It’s really important to live outside of my head as often as possible. [While doing] anything like just walking down the street, talking to a friend or eating a meal, as long as I’m present, when I’m actually there, I’ll naturally feel aligned, because I’m not thinking myself into oblivion or panicking about something that holds no real weight. I feel the most aligned with my true nature, who I actually am, my power, all of that; I feel alive and connected to all that when I am actually within my body, doing something with full attention.


Valeria Amirova


My mom and I left Almaty, Kazakhstan for Canada in 1994. I was 9 years old. When you’re a refugee, you can’t go back to the country you came from for at least 3 years. We went back after 5 years.

My mom was sent to prison for obscure reasons almost immediately after our arrival in Almaty. We left as soon as she was released. I always hated Kazakhstan. I never missed the mountains that my mom always talked about. I never felt any connection to the place where I was from.

Growing confused about my identity, seventeen years later I decided to go back. I hiked the mountains where I grew up, slept in yurts, ate the food and spoke the language.

Being back home felt wonderful!


Photography and Words · Valeria Amirova

Jessalyn Brooks

«The beginning of popular, female beauty standards didn’t start in magazines, it started in paintings and sculptures – all made and decided by men»

When did you start painting and creating and what pushed you towards it?

I first started painting when I was about 15 years old. I stopped after my first year of art school. After not touching a brush for about 13 years, I started back up again. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s just that thing where people say “fuck it” when they’re in their 30’s. I started small, just doing drawings and small paintings. Then my dog of 13 years died in November of last year. That’s when I went all in. It helped me cope.

How do you find the balance between the vision you have and the mediums you are using?

Right now I’m using oils. I don’t know how I forgot how messy and frustrating (and dangerous!) they could be. Working quickly with patience is something I’ve always been good at. Mixing thinners with oil bodies speeds up drying time and still giving it a good finish and texture. I don’t even know if what I’m saying is right. I’m still so new at this. It’s been a lot of trial and error. That being said, color is very important in my work. The mixing takes most of the time. The placement of the color blocking is always the challenging part. I move back and forth between monochromatic and complimentary colors-, contrast and muted palates. It’s rare that I ever map or plan anything out, so I kind of just rely on my instinct. The oils are a pain in the ass when you’re being precise but the organic feel- the natural pigments and hues- are so much more important to me.

What inspired your style of work?  Where do you get inspiration from? Are there any particular artists, photographers, painters drawers you look up to their works? 

I guess I’m mostly inspired by artists of the early 20th century cubist movement. Braques, Klee, Picasso, Severini, Picabia, etc. I’m inspired by the romance of industry: machines, shape, metal, volume, movement. I’ve actually been living in a factory for the last seven years here in Los Angeles. It was built in 1910 as a textile factory and still to this day functions as one (I just live here illegally…) A lot of the shapes I’m inspired by come from the old relics that live around this building- the furnace tower outside my window, the layers in the stairwells, the half-moon windows in the mezzanine. I’m surrounded by industrial life, I guess it’s only natural it finds its way into my work.

How long does it take to create a piece? What is the process being it?

Each piece is obviously different. Some of my larger pieces may take me days, some of the small ones take me an hour. I normally start with an oil wash- normally an umber or cadmium orange of some sort, then I move on to the composition, where I use a light oil wash to make my forms. When that dries, I start the color blocking process, which is when I just go on auto pilot. The mixing takes about half the time. The colors have to shout at me before they find their way onto the canvas.

Would you say that there is a main thread connecting all your artworks and if so, which is it? 

The main thread in my work is typically a strong, angular, full-bodied woman (or two, or three). It’s the only thing I’m certain of- That I am a body and that I work. A lot of my work is really just me and what I remember about my body and the environment I’m in.

What kind of talks would you like to hear around your artworks? 

I’d like to think that my work is more than just pretty nudes. For centuries in art, the female form was made solely for the male gaze. The beginning of popular, female beauty standards didn’t start in magazines, it started in paintings and sculptures – all made and decided by men. Most of my followers are women. I am a woman. There are no beauty standards applied to my paintings, yet you still know it is a form. The beauty is in the familiarity- the distinctive and almost subliminal contours of the female form that we sometimes neglect- the divot between the hip and thigh, the hill along the forearm, the bridge of the foot, the space between the armpit and the breast… THOSE are the shapes that I love. I try to really do those parts justice. haha.


Jo Ann Walters

«I like doubling and tripling ambiguities, tensions, and constellations of associations»

Jo Ann Walters has been photographing towns like the one she grew up in for a while – since the 1980s in fact. Growing up in Alton, a ‘small town along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois’, she was as committed to leaving her hometown, as she was to returning there, in order to document what life is like for those who live there. Walters won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 to photograph along the river and was soon drawn to depicting the livelihoods of the town’s population of women. This series was made into a book, Wood River Blue Pool, last year. Yet, if focussing on the women of Alton, and towns like it, was familiar to Walters, the DOG Town series explores a side of her upbringing that was both familiar and alien to her. In this body of work, Walters has built up a picture from the other side, as it attempts to uncover the role of an industrial town and its working, male population in a post-industrial era. In DOG Town, barren landscapes that recall the early photography of Eugène Atget are juxtaposed with whimsical, even straight-up comical, scenes of human life. Speaking on the phone, it is clear that Walters gives as much weight to the epic as she does to the humdrum, as competing aspects of the complexities of human existence.  

NR: What were your intentions for DOG Town, and have these changed over the years you’ve spent photographing Alton for the series?

Jo Ann Walters: I’ve always been interested in the place where I grew up, and for many years I was particularly interested in young mothers and girls there. It represented one possibility for my future, but also one I had consciously moved away from. I just published my first monograph of that work, which came out last October [Wood River Blue Pool and the companion book Blue Pool Cecelia]. In the early 2000s, I began to wonder about the men I’d grown up with as well as the marginalized parts of the town I hadn’t paid much attention to while photographing. My father, for example, had a small sheet-metal fabrication business that serviced the steel mills, ammunition factories, and refineries in town, so modern industry had always been around and part of my life. Women rarely worked in the factories when I was growing up in the mid-20th Century. We didn’t have first-hand knowledge of life and labour in these factories, but it was always the backdrop for our lives. So, I started taking these pictures, not just in my hometown, but in other small industrial towns too. I’m still working on DOG Town, among other projects; I’m very thorough and two decades of work is not such a long time. A few years back I began photographing people more frequently, so there are more portraits showing up. 

NR: There are two images in Dog Town, a women singing, and a boy playing a video game: within the context of the depravity of the series, these seem like frivolous pursuits. Is that something you’re intending to depict?

JAW: That’s interesting that you say it appears frivolous. When I was younger, I would have thought that karaoke and video games were trivial pursuits. There’s not a lot to do in many of these towns. Even though Alton isn’t far from downtown St Louis, MO, people don’t travel there often. Some of the photographs were taken in a decade ago but the place looks pretty much the same only more impoverished, more run down. I made the picture of the woman singing in a bar called the Ranch House during one of their bi-monthly karaoke nights. The woman is in a one-piece blue outfit and wearing white pumps, and a garish shining backdrop. When she got up on the floor to sing, well, … she couldn’t carry a tune at all. The few competitors in her audience sneered and rolled their eyes without caring much if she or anyone noticed, but in my mind’s eye she was the best of them all, her voice and countenance so full of emotion, longing loneliness, soul. I realized that karaoke nights held meaning for the people there in ways I hadn’t understood before. I remember a few people asking if I was from the press. I realized some hoped their image would be published in the Alton Evening Telegraph and, perhaps, they would be discovered by a talent scout.

NR: Linking on from that, what about the image of the young boys, one is surrounded by dogs, the other with a pumpkin bucket; it would be interesting to know how their futures play into DOG Town. 

JAW: I like both of those photographs quite a bit. I happened upon a family, at a moment when their dog had just had puppies – the dogs were half-husky, half-wolf.  They were running all around the property. One of the things I like about image of the boy and his parents holding the puppies is that this little boy is so attentive, but also intensely inward. He had been looking at me with near total concentration, but I chose to make the picture in a moment when he was looking past me. The boy and the dog appear to be in the same state of consciousness. Both appear contemplative, world weary and knowing. I wouldn’t call it hopeful, but I’d call it a kind of youthful and adult consciousness at once. Their gazes seem to extend both inside and outside the picture. It is difficult to imagine what the future holds for him and his family, but it suggests the possibility of wisdom.

On the other hand, the little boy holding the white plastic pumpkin, he looks… well, the grass is nearly dead, it’s the end of fall, the sky is cloudy: maybe there will be rain, maybe a storm. And, he seems so very confused to me; the wheelbarrow’s tipped over; another toy appears to be stuck in a rut. I can’t easily pin this image down. The pumpkin’s white, why is it white? I remember the boy was angry when I first began to photograph, I guess because I had interrupted the privacy of the game he was playing. His imaginative life seems rich in the picture but also full of starts and stops. It is hard to describe what this appearance of difficult and complicated dreams will bring. 

NR: You mentioned the timing of the image in relation to the seasons. That’s something I picked up on in DOG Town; one of the constant changes in the series is the change of season, has this been a conscious decision? 

JAW: Yes. There’s something particular about the light in the town where I grew up in. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling along the river, and there’s something about the moisture in the air and the humidity. We had four distinct seasons when I was young, and this has profoundly affected my sensibility climate change has blurred the boundaries between seasons. I often photograph the same things and places over and over, year after year. I feel fortunate that I discovered the world through photography. Through my habit or discipline of re-photographing, again and again, I have cultivated and deepened my perceptual capacities. Sometimes, at its worst, repetition ends up feeling mechanical or obsessive, but when it works repetition transforms into ritual and something very different happens.

«Ritualizing picture making prepares me to be open to the complex and sensual experiences than the relative subject matter depicts. The images evoke something experiential, with a wide range of emotion and intellectual complexity. Seasonal time, as opposed to linear time.»

While making the Dog Town work, there came the point when I began to get sick of my color palate and habits of pictures making. So, I challenged myself to make pictures in the winter when there was minimal colour, often during inclement weather, or when the snow was so white there was little apparent detail. I tortured myself [laughing] for three or four years by photographing in freezing weather in an attempt to experience and photograph the color, light and affective register of winter. I wondered how these variations in my practice might affect the construction of meaning. 

NR: What about the image of the snowy landscape, with what looks like a warehouse in the background, and a truck in front? 

JAW: I like that image because the sign on the building says salvage and I can easily transpose or associate it with the word salvation. I bought a small tripod that you can screw onto a car window. After I had printed the picture, I kept staring at the odd double shadowing in the overhead power line and wondering where it was coming from. I had made a long exposure in low light. The sun was nearly gone. I hadn’t securely tightened the camera to the tripod. The camera was slowly moved downwards during a long exposure and traveling at irregular intervals that created a double shadow of sorts. It reminds me of the way movement is sometimes described in early photography because of the slow film and necessary long exposures. It was a strategy I wouldn’t have thought of myself. I love mistakes when they work out

NR: Would you be able to talk about the image with the Easter decals?

JAW: This was taken in Bethlehem, PA., a coal mining town, and there was this funky little convenience store. It was grey and overcast outside, and I was fascinated by the formal complications of making a photograph through the store window from the inside out. I was fascinated with the Easter decals that decorated the window pane, and how this content might create a strange layer of composition and meaning. There is a sentimentality one associates with cheerful cartoonish characterizations of rabbits, eggs, baskets of flowers, and springtime in the decals. This happy sentimentality seems at odds with the rest of the image. Through the window and past these silly stickers, you see the grey street and the sad generic buildings in disrepair. By chance, a person in a dark coat walked towards the store. Because of the moment during which the picture was made, it looks like the man is wearing a rabbit mask and carrying a bunny purse. All the while the easter decals appear animated like they are dancing around in the air and on the street. At first, I thought these pictorial events in the image moved away from the melancholy tone of the series, though

«I do often employ humor in my work. But, in retrospect, I think it imparts a kind of black foreboding humor to the image.»

NR: Another image that stands out in the series is the one of prisoners; how does it fit into the series?  

JAW: There are several pictures in the series – along with the one I just described that seem akin. For example, the hunting dogs chained to barrels and the parking lot with an older car and a building displaying a sign illustrated by cartoon description of dynamite exploding. There is something that feels comical, but, also telling. Both pictures are funny in their ways, but the underbelly of each is cold and covertly oppressive. There is something almost whimsical about the hunting dog picture despite the visible constrictions and brutality of the short leashes and imaginings as to how they function in the our world. The dogs appear over and over again, and if you look closely, you discover tiny dogs in the background standing on the barrels or shed roofs or hidden partially behind trees. I can whistle really loud and mearly every dog is alert, at attention, and looking straight at me, even those furthest back in the image. In the world of this picture, one can imagine that if the dogs were to run at me in their excitement once their surprise wore off, they’d be yanked back by the chains attached to their necks. In the image you refer to there are a group of prisoners in single-file with a barge behind them. They were picking up trash along a Mississippi River highway following a recent flood when I stopped my car. The sky is blue and the air is clear. The prisoners appear tame and benign. The tall, tremendously large, white prison guard sporting a long white beard had just ordered the surprised prisoners to get back to work. He is carrying a taser stick. 

NR: There is something cartoonish about these images, but also a darkness in them, a violence… 

JAWs: That’s it! Yes, there is an undertow of violence in these pictures, and the cartoonish quality contributes to this violence. The cartoons reduce and cover the inherent abuse implied in the scenes depicted: the prisoners and prison guard, the bunny-masked figure seen through the convenience store window decorated with easter decals, the parking lot and dynamite sign, and in some ways even the boy with the pumpkin. At first, this kind of humor might seem at odds with the tone of other pictures we have discussed but viewed within the entire body of work I think they act to cut away, cut through or partially subtract from the edge of sentimentality I explore in other images. In the picture of the hunting dogs chained to barrels, you can make a game of searching for and counting the dogs, a kind of Where’s Waldo? It could be a child’s game, but violent associations are embedded or buried.

NR: I found it amusing that there are all these images of barren landscapes with heaps of scrap material and piles of cars, and, then, there’s also this picture of a window sign, which reads ‘top dollars paid for scrap gold and silver’.

JAW: I don’t know if I’d use that picture when I get around to publishing a book of this work. The image is illustrative, more so than other pictures throughout the body of work. My father was a relatively successful small business owner and what some might call an upstanding citizen, and as I said earlier, he ran a sheet metal fabrication factory. After he retired, and without the constant structure of a work-week, he was often at a loss as to what to do with himself. He retired early and drank more, just like nearly everyone in town. There was nothing much to do. As a way to socialize, he would sometimes hang out at pawn shops with other men. Perhaps this is one reason why this picture seemed vital to me for a while. As an image it illustrates something about the realities of class and economics in post-industrial towns of this size. In the end, I think it lacks the subtlety that I’m usually drawn to. I try to particularize and keep cultural information to a minimum to slow the pictures down, and so the viewer has to travel through the sequence of images in multiple ways. I like pictures to suggest uncertainty or rather carry multiple meanings that are often in contradiction to one another, and to do so all at once. I like doubling and tripling ambiguities, tensions, and constellations of associations through individual images, sequences of images and the intervening spaces between images. In DOG Town, I want to evoke meanings such as that which is overtly illustrated in the picture of the pawn shop, but to do so in slower, more nuanced and porous ways. 

Jennifer Cheng



Photography · JENNIFER CHENG
Photo Assistant · JON GLENDON
Model · JUNKAI QI from Storm
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Jonas Åkerlund

Jonas Akerlund

«Sometimes a blank canvas is not always the best idea, it’s nice when it becomes about dialogue»

Like water through a closed fist, success seeps before permeating, so often we are only left with a feeling. Uncurling his wet fingers to peer down at the traces left to puddle in the creases of his fissured palms, Jonas Åkerlund yields a single flick of the wrist, scattering droplets skyward before running it through the tresses of his long, greased, black hair. It’s hot, midday in Los Angeles after all and sweat begins to bead as abstraction is traded for sensation. The Grammy-award winning director oscillates between fatherhood, soggy cereal and a full-house in the face of COVID-19 and chatty meetings surrounding the debut of Clark, a new, Netflix show he co-wrote about a Swedish libertine whose crimes forged the spine of the term Stockholm Syndrome before carving out some time to chat.

Having worked in the industry for almost 30 years now, Jonas has established himself as a prodigious, music-video director capable of wielding a colossal range spanning across genres and decades before situating himself more comfortably in writer’s rooms and director’s chairs on sets of feature-length films. “People expect me to take them out of their comfort zone, they expect me to have a voice,” says Jonas. Mind you these “people” include the likes of Beyonce, The Rolling Stones, The Prodigy, ABBA, Dior, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Givenchy and Lady Gaga. His most recent film, Lords of Chaos (2018),showcased a sublime bridging of his raw sensibilities with the creation of the kinds of omniscient visual languages he is known for. Yet as he unclenches and clenches his fists again, peering down into introspection, Jonas shies away from what we think he is looking for. Remaining wary of success because it is too often a ceiling, he is still learning to use his wings, coasting on the jetstreams of his own creativity. The legacy he is building values hindsight as vision and resilience is the only feeling he is chasing with arms outstretched, grasping, reaching.

You’ve got such a distinct style and have worked with such a wide range of clients in the entertainment industry ranging from music, to film, to fashion, garnering much awareness to your visual world but we wanted to give you more of an opportunity to talk about the experiences and perspectives that shaped your lens — more so than just your lens itself. When you were a child, where did you get your ideas about the future from? Can you think of any particularly formative experiences from your childhood that you can remember?

Growing up in the seventies and eighties was probably the best time to grow up in. I wouldn’t wish that I was born 10 years earlier or 10 years later. Everything was just perfect, especially from a cultural and musical perspective because all the best music came out of that era. This was a time when bands did an album and a tour every year and for some weird reason they always came to Stockholm. Music was a big deal in my life since my early teens I would say and it was really one of those things where people just picked up the instrument and did it. I really thought that I would work with music but I was always drawn more to the visual aspect of it. I was the guy who came up with the name, I was the guy that made the logo, I was the guy that thought about where the instruments should be on the stage. I didn’t know back then, but I realize now that I wasn’t a very good musician. I was always a film guy, always loved films and I had as many film posters on my wall as I did with music posters but it wasn’t until I did military service where for some weird reason, I ended up taking pictures for an army magazine of sorts, that I realized for the first time in my life, I had a lot of confidence. It was the most natural thing in the world for me and almost in an instant, I stopped playing music. When I discovered film editing specifically, not just photography, it was like I met God. Mt first year in production I was an assistant to a director who was very, very skilled in editing, very ahead of his time and we’re talking early nineties here. A lot of his techniques and a lot of the way he prepared for a shoot and put stories together was to always have the edit in the back of your head, that’s how I learned. I never stopped hanging with musicians and I never stopped loving music but my focus quickly became the fact that I was the guy with a camera instead of the guy banging the drums.

Right and thinking about music as a whole, there’s obviously such an emotional release or sense of catharsis that is innate to it. Examining the editing process, that’s seemingly how you shape and communicate emotions visually. I’m wondering if you can give verbal form to your own visual language and explain how editing renders the emotionality that goes into music and film as a whole.

I think what I discovered was that I was very limited when I played music because I didn’t really write songs or lyrics, but what I learned quickly with editing was that I could easily use small details to change how you looked at something. I could move a frame or two and you see the whole thing completely different. I could add a sound effect and all of a sudden it’s scary, add another sound effect and you would feel something else entirely. It was incredible, it almost made me feel like a magician to see how I could manipulate people to think and feel with my edits. I still love that and unfortunately when you make music videos and commercials as I’ve done with the bigger part of my life, you never get to see your audience and experience it with them. So when I started making movies and had the chance to be a part of the audience and to watch their reactions, I couldn’t get enough of it. It was so interesting to feel the shifts in emotions, moods and energy and how what I made would move them around.

Right and with art as a whole, some people want their art to be “understood” verbatim, they want their audience to know what the message is that they’re trying to communicate and for them to get it. When you’re in the audience watching their reactions, is this what you desire? Or are you open to having people feel what they’re going to feel and walking away with their own interpretation of your work? How in control do you need to be?

I mean we always have a vision and we always have an idea when we set out to create things. For example, I remember so clearly thinking that when I did The Prodigy’s music video Smack My Bitch Up, that it was funny. I thought it was a comedy and I showed it to some friends in Sweden and they were laughing their asses off so when it came out, I couldn’t believe the reaction and that it upset a lot of people. On the flip side of that, I remember when I premiered my movie Spun at the Arc Lightwhich I actually thought was a pretty serious movie, that during the first scene everybody was laughing and I’m like, why are people laughing? This is serious shit. It took me years before I realized that Spun is actually a comedy. But especially now when I’m writing, I always have an idea of where I want to go with it. I’m not just doing it and hoping for the best but it takes years before you learn to see stuff for what it is. Even for my video Ray of Light [with Madonna which he won a Grammy for in 1999], it took me 10 years before I was proud of that video. I thought it was way too simple and I remember coming back to Sweden after I made it and I didn’t want to show it to my friends because I thought they would say, ‘oh, so you go to America and work with Madonna and this is what you come back with?’ It took me years before I realized that that’s just the best package ever, that album, the Mario Testino pictures and when I was in that moment, I couldn’t see it, you know?

Right and is that frustrating at all or are you now resigned to the fact that some things are just better seen with hindsight? Does it mar the experience of making it?

Yeah, but it goes the other way too because sometimes I’ve done what I think is some of my best work and people didn’t really respond to it or didn’t even watch it. Timing is something you cannot plan.

Do you mean like the cultural timing of what people are going to be thinking or have references to in that moment of a project’s release?

Yeah how you release stuff, how you market stuff, it’s all so sensitive, you know? I think we all know that feeling of when we discover a movie that we’ve never seen before and we ask ourselves ‘why didn’t I ever see this movie?’ It’s not a given that just because it’s good, that it’s gonna work or be successful, you know? We also know that some really bad stuff is making it big simultaneously. We can never learn a way to control that, it’s impossible. In my point of view, all my favorite artists, my favorite directors, favorite musicians, they all fail once in a while because they’re brave and they choose to believe their gut feeling and go with it. I’m not a big fan of these smart artists who always get it right, if you know what I mean. [laughs]

Yeah because then creation is coming from a place where it’s for others instead of yourself, it becomes unhinged.

Yeah I think so. Obviously with a lot of my jobs I’m the director for hire so I always need to think about my clients and the artists I’m working with since I’m ultimately there for them.

Definitely but when you are working with clients who may not align with your aesthetic or your vision per se, what are you willing to compromise on? Where do you draw the line?

That’s a tough question. Number one, I’m really happy and blessed that I get to work with brave clients and artists who really want to make good stuff. Number two, I kind of ended up being the guy to go to if you want something special, so people expect me to take them out of their comfort zone, they expect me to have a voice. Often times with commercials, my job is to understand the DNA of the company and product and to figure out what it is they want to do and that’s half the battle. I’ve always kind of done the same with music videos and out of my 300 music videos or so, I don’t think I ever was on an ego trip. I just try not to do what they’ve done before and pull them out of their comfort zone without making them feel too far away from who they are. It’s kinda my job to push it a little bit.

Right. The idea of comfort zones is really interesting because they seemingly are the boundaries to our own identities and affinities. In taking your collaborators out of their respective comfort zones, what does that process really look like for you?

I mean, it’s so different from time to time. There’s not a manual for how it goes down but I think it’s a mixture of several different things. One of them is the fact that I don’t like to repeat things and I always try to do something that’s never been done before. Especially in music videos, if you take a specific artist, usually you can backtrack easily and see what they’ve done. It becomes about balance and you always have to stay within the DNA of what the artist is all about. You can’t just take an artist and put them in a clown outfit and say, this is something different, you know, it’s got to be within their ethos. So sometimes when I say to take them out of their comfort zone, it could be the tiniest push that could take them there, it could be as simple as a hat. Some artists have been pushed in so many different directions that it’s really hard to come up with an idea that will make your approach to them different in the sense that is illuminating. I have often found that it’s sometimes about simplifying stuff, it’s easy to hide behind what’s big and gigantic. My strength is usually to listen to the music and figure out what the timing is, what the song is about, whatever it is. From there I’ve found the best situation is when the artist has some sort of initial thought that could trigger an idea for me, it cascades from there. Sometimes a blank canvas is not always the best idea, it’s nice when it becomes about dialogue.

Especially with music videos and performance in general, you really do get to play with the idea of multiple selves as our identities because it’s always changing. Do you too feel like you get to play with the duality of performance in terms of your style and your own relationship with yourself?

Well it actually used to trouble me a little bit because I felt like I didn’t have a style. A lot of my favorite directors and photographers that I’ve always looked up to had such distinctive styles and specific things to where you could see a mile away if they had done something. Meanwhile, I felt like I was going too broad. One day I was doing an H&M commercial with children’s clothes and the next day I was doing an Ozzy Ozbourne video. It actually took me a few years to be proud of the fact that I could do that. I also realized that it fuels me, to where one thing leads to another, one thing makes me more inspired. There was also a time when I was really snobbish with music videos, I turned down stuff because I personally didn’t like it and that became such a limitation for me. I remember clearly when I said ‘yes’ to work with Christina Aguilera because I had said that I wasn’t going to work with any of those pop artists. When we did the video for Beautiful, it was such a life changing moment for me because it really made me think that I should say yes to stuff. Now I realize that 25 years into my working life that a lot of these fantastic, life changing moments have been a result of me saying yes to stuff instead of saying, no. Sometimes I joke that I built my career on saying yes. [laughs]

Right and I feel like so much of that comes from being naturally empathetic as it allows you to move easily between realms, genres and contexts while knowing what you bring to the table as a director in each scenario. I feel like it also fuels growth and ultimately longevity that hinges on a strong sense of resilience.

You wear so many different hats and I actually feel younger than ever as a director even though I’ve done it for so many years. But you do get to a point where every problem and challenge you face is kind of something you’ve encountered before. There’s a reason why a lot of big directors not only have a long career but that they also get better and better. With most professions you kind of get weaker as you get older but as a director and a writer, you get a little smarter and you begin to approach challenges in a smarter, calmer way. I still see that I definitely have the best ahead of me. I now have confidence as a writer which I never had before in my life and there’s a lot of things that happen to me as a director now that makes it easier for me to take on things. I also think it’s an addiction. It’s such a rush through your body when you’re done with a project, you get the same rush each time you get a new idea and every time you start up a new project, it’s amazing. A lot of these big directors could have stopped years ago and lived pretty good lives and then there are those who stop because they don’t have more to give. I feel like I’m spreading out my creativity over my whole life because I have always seen myself as a slow starter.

But ultimately you cannot be a filmmaker without being some sort of businessman and understand that somebody is paying you. Unfortunately, filmmaking is not something you can just do for fun because it’s so expensive to make films and it involves so many people. Sometimes you’re sitting with an idea for years that may never happen. I was thinking of Lords of Chaos for 15 years before I got to make it. It is a weird lifestyle if you try to explain what it is you’re doing to a normal person. There’s always a risk you take because you can work so hard for so long and even then it might not even happen, it’s never a safe bet.

Yeah and thinking specifically about projects like Lords of Chaos, previously you used the phrase expectation of voice in relation to your work and I think that’s something that is an interesting hallmark. You were able to essentially turn a rather harrowing account of coming of age and tarnished dreams into a story of brotherhood, vulnerability and relationships.

Lords of Chaos was a journey even for myself because it didn’t really start it off like that initially. I thought I was doing a movie about black metal, what happened in Norway and the church burnings and all of that but it actually took me all the way to the edit to realize that this story is about the relationships between these three boys. A lot of people had already decided what Lords of Chaos was gonna be about before they saw it and they were surprised when they did see it because it wasn’t what they expected. We all think we know the story better than everybody else, but nobody ever talked really about the fact that these boys were young and there was an extreme bond between these three boys. I guess the biggest lie of that movie is me thinking that I knew how they felt and the depth of the other relationships they had. I can imagine how they felt and I can imagine how horrible everything was but it’s really hard for me as a director and writer to know for sure. That’s originally why I added based on truths or lies to the opening of the film because the point is that we’re walking right into the privacy of these young boys and their families and all the relatives that are still mourning and it’s fucking sad.

Right we touched a little bit on how getting into writing was also a big deal for you. There’s a certain door to vulnerability that is opened with writing in general. Can you talk us through the process of getting to know your own writing voice and what it means to tell someone else’s story through that voice?

Historically writing has been a struggle for me because I’m very dyslexic. I grew up in a time when this dyslexia was seen more as a handicap but today the approach to it is a little different. It was my biggest nightmare when people asked me to write down my ideas but when I started to work in America and write in English, I always figured that it was okay to write a little wrong because English is not my first language. It actually gave me more confidence because I felt like the margin of error was excusable and it was like if you don’t understand, you can ask me, you know? In filmmaking, writing it’s the hardest thing in the world and so often you are starting from scratch. For so long I’ve respected it from afar but I didn’t realize that’s also actually what I do. Even if you write something that’s four minutes for a music video, or 15 minutes for a short film or even 30 seconds for a commercial, you’re still a writer, it’s still the same challenge and who knew that I had been doing it for so many years.

When I was going to write Lords of Chaos, I had to remind myself that I already had it in me so when I finally sat down to do so it came so fast, it just poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in a few weeks. I brought on Dennis Magnusson, who is a dramaturge, because sometimes it’s very lonely to write and it’s always great to have a second pair of eyes. Dennis really helped me to work through some of the story plots and we added the voiceover featured in the film together. I know exactly what my strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to writing, for instance I’m really good at adding tone, writing dialogue.

A project that I’m working on now is writing this series for Netflix with two other guys. I would say it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done in my life. It’s a six-episode, limited series but it’s basically like making three movies in a row. It’s based on Clark Oloffsson who is a very infamous criminal, bank robber and womanizer who has been called Sweden’s first «pop-gangster.» He was present at the Norrmalmstorg robbery whose events resulted in the creation of the phrase «Stockholm syndrome» to describe them.

That’s super exciting! When you’re collaborating with other writers and having to know what you bring to the table, what do you think makes you good at things like dialogue, tone, those sorts of very nuanced things?

Oh, wow. I have no idea. I just always liked to study people, listen to how people talk, walk, dress differently on all fronts. I’ve always been a student of human behavior and with some of my friends, it’s all that we talk about. I’m not very educated but I got a big portion of common sense in my life by being street savvy and a lot of the things that I pick up when I write jokes and stuff is from real life.

Right and especially being as established as you are, to have this idea where you are still learning from those around you all the time is remarkable. With that in mind, whose opinion matters to you? Where does validation come in?

I’m a pretty good listener and somebody could say something about something without not even meaning it and that could take me down a mental rabbit hole of something else entirely. Those words could come from anywhere, a comment, or a question about something I did and then suddenly I understand it or see it from another point of view. When I’m working on a music video, I’m so blessed to work with creative people and their input makes me better and takes me to places where I didn’t think I could go. Madonna being my number one example of this because we have such a history and she also caught me during a time when yeah, I had been working for almost 10 years before we met, but I didn’t know much. She brought me into scenarios that I never thought I could do and opened my eyes to the fact that you as a director have the right to change your mind or that you have the right to ask questions and that you can ask for a lot, but you always ask most out of yourself. I look at all of these amazing relationships I’ve had throughout my career and I’m always learning something from them. I never really shut anybody down and try to take everything in. I also have my crew around me, some of whom I’ve worked with for 30 years or so, I’m kind of a long relationship type of guy.

I love the longevity in terms of working relationships, there’s a respect for time and real growth. It’s interesting if you begin to look at the upcoming generation of creatives who are shaping the music scene in a totally different way today and there’s an overall feeling of transience, a constant rush to produce. Is this new generation as influential or as inspirational to you as the one you grew up in?

It’s so hard to say, I’m always kind of like that grumpy old man who thinks that everything was better before, especially in music. I try so hard to listen to new music but I always go back to the old stuff, it’s just who I am. I don’t have many references anymore, period. I’ve gone through all types of different periods of my life. There was a time when I was hugely inspired by fashion, photographers, I used to read all the magazines, watch all the movies and after a while you just stop that and you start to go back to yourself more. That’s the biggest growth creatively that I’ve ever felt, to stop feeling like I needed to know what other people were doing and to start to think about what I do. That’s a huge thing in your life. But I think creativity in general is blooming bigger than ever today. I have four children so I see what’s going on and it’s incredible. It’s so easy to be creative and do all these amazing things instantly. It’s amazing to see what everybody can do at home with their phones and they actually do it. I think it’s inspired them to do even more.

Right and I feel like why your work is so successful is because there’s this strong presence of originality and nowadays we are always grasping for another reference, always on social media looking at what other people are doing and being influenced by it. What allowed you to find peace with your own creativity, to turn inwards and to not feel the need for references despite having to produce all of these ideas and create?

I find it a good compliment and a good question all in one, but I don’t really know how it happens and when it happens. I think you’re born with a certain amount of creativity and you have to make sure that you use it well and use it smartly. I was always so insecure in my creativity up until a point where it suddenly felt easier for me. I feel like if you are insecure, it’s so easy to look around and see what other people do. I know how easy it is to be influenced by the world around you and how easy it is to want to do what other people do when it’s great. I know how easy it is to step into those traps but I can tell when I look back on my career what the different sources of inspiration have been, and where they’ve come from, I’m aware of that. It’s not like I’m not interested in what other people do anymore, or it’s not like I’m not still a student of creativity, but I’m not influenced in the same way. I don’t pick it up. I get influenced by other stuff. You know, it’s like I get influenced by a feeling or I get inspired by something someone said, I get inspired by a smile or the way something looks. I think it’s just a natural part of development and you should be really happy if you get there. The fact that I still leave the building at the end of the day, working on my confidence and see things as part of a bigger picture than I used to do, is ust a healthy thing for my work.

Yeah and where do you draw the line between influence and inspiration?

That’s a tough one. It’s a fine line between and my fear is always that if I start to analyze it too much, I’m, I’m worried I’m gonna lose it . For example, take Stephen King’s book, On Writing, I bought the audiobook and I listened to Stephen reading it himself and it’s just incredible how he speaks and how he talks about his writing process but I had to stop listening because I was worried that I was going to learn something from it that was going to ruin my own way of writing. I never went to school, I’m not technically a good writer in any way, but the ideas, scenes, the characters and the jokes, still pour out of my hands and I was just thinking, I’d rather have that than to learn how to actually write, you know? I couldn’t finish the book because I was worried that I was going to be too caught up in those things, trying to pretend that I’m Stephen King and writing the way he does, which is never gonna happen anyway, so I was like, okay, I’m not gonna do this.

Definitely and how do you define success there? What kind of emotions do you want it to leave you with, audience aside?

I mean when you do as much as I do, the hallmarks of success could come in so many different ways. It could be an extremely happy client. It could be that the product really worked and we sold a lot of stuff. It could be that we had 10 million downloads in the first three days. It could be the sense of fulfillment and desire to share. There’s not one answer for it. The one thing that keeps it all together for me is knowing that I did the best I can. The worst thing in the world for me is — even if the project was a success by another markers — feeling like I did a sloppy job. Even if I made a film that might not be that great, if I did the best I could do, that’s still a success for me because it still leaves me with a good feeling. But then again, it’s so hard to really define because when you’re in the moment you don’t really know how to gauge it outside of feeling. I can list the 10 moments in my career that took me further in life, or my 10 biggest hits and it’s easy to see them now when I’m looking back. But you don’t really know when you have success on your hands.

Right so what do you think endures and is it important for you to leave a legacy?

I’m not there yet, but it seems like the older you get, the more keen you are on these thoughts. Every artist that I’ve looked up to has some sort of book written about or by them, they’ve done work on a biopic or documentary and then if they’re lucky, there’s a movie about them. That’s what people seem to do but I’m a behind the scenes kind of guy and unfortunately my art is not meant to last. Movies don’t have the lifespan that music could potentially have or books could potentially have, movies get old, they often lean more towards entertainment and the present moment than art. I’m lucky that I have a few music videos that people remember but that’s not the purpose of them, they’re really just tools to create a moment that is now and then never again. I’m not meant to be remembered. I’m meant to entertain you now and that’s it, you know?

And is that okay with you? Is that what you want?

Yeah, I think it’s okay. Even some of the biggest filmmakers in the world are going to be forgotten unfortunately and that comes with the job. It’s more so just about telling the story and having it be understood. I can’t speak for other people, but it’s all about learning, moving forward and seeing past things to see the bigger picture. The worst fear in my life is to not be able to see beyond what’s in front of me. I always hope I’m learning. I hope I’m becoming better and I think about it every day and I think that goes for the people that are around me as well.If we understand that everything we do has an effect, and if we can see the bigger picture, that makes it easier.

Cody Cobb


Photography · Cody Cobb

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