Jacob Felländer is an accidental artist.
Not only did he take a circuitous route to become an accomplished and innovative photographer, but his multi-exposure photographs leave a lot to chance.
During the past decade, Felländer’s photography has captured the imagination of many, from the Nobel Prize committee, which exhibited his work, to former President Bill Clinton, who is a collector. These breath-taking photographs — from a mural of the world on single roll of film, to Cubist portraits of cities — can be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art -North Miami from Dec. 6 through Feb. 11.
His MOCA show, titled “How To Unlock a Portal,” is a multi-layered exhibit that incorporates painting, sound, sculpture and virtual reality into the mix, making it possible for viewers to feel completely immersed in his artwork. If you make one side trip from the big Art Basel fair during Art Week, this is the one to see.
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Felländer’s brilliant use of multiple-exposure photography creates three-dimensional views at various points in time. His work leaves us questioning the very notion of time — whether it is linear and why it sometimes appears to evaporate in its haste or drag on at a dreadfully slow pace.
“Maybe we decided that time is a fixed variable, but maybe it isn’t,” Felländer, 43, told the Miami Herald. “Maybe there’s a reason that it feels as if things are going fast sometimes and slow sometimes. This is also how I feel about time. I’m here, but at the same time I can think about myself as a 7-year-old and I can think about yesterday and 10 years ago, and it’s kind of all at once in a weird sense.”
Felländer’s fascination with time takes photography from the static to a flowing medium. His rolls of film have more in common with motion pictures than still photography. His overlapping images create bas relief portraits that add more and more depth with each exposure — and that process can take a lifetime.
“It’s capturing a span of time, instead of just one of those frozen moments,” he says. “I have one of these cameras to photograph my sons, and in the end I can have their whole life on one image.” Using four cameras — one for each of his four young sons — he photographs them once a year, leaving the same roll of film in place so that it will have hundreds of exposures over their lifetime. He included instructions in his will on how to develop the film after he’s gone.
“It won’t turn out black, but I can’t really control what will become the focal point,” he says. “I have more control over it now than when I started, but not 100 percent control.”
Rather than play God with the creation of his photographs, Felländer prefers to let the universe reveal itself through him.
“It’s really, really important that my process is 100-percent intuitive,” he says. “I’m not super impressed with my own intellect, but I’m very excited about what can come through me if I don’t interfere with the process.”
For Felländer, there’s magic in the mystery. He’s often uncertain about how his images will turn out, especially when he circumnavigated the globe to create the “whole world in one image.” Starting in his native Stockholm, he flew to New York, then Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Dubai and back to Sweden with 33 plastic, throw-away cameras that are extremely light-sensitive. Up until Dubai he managed to avoid having to place the cameras through an x-ray machine before boarding a commercial airliner. Desperate to avoid damaging the film, Felländer pleaded for a hand inspection, but to no avail.
“It was just two guards with machine guns and a guy with a beret and all these medals — which is never a good sign,” Felländer says. “He had, like that villain in ‘Indiana Jones,’ that accent, like a weird British accent,” he says, mimicking the man, “Hmm. My colleagues say you want a favor.” Sensing that the man wanted a bribe and not knowing if such an offer would land him in jail, Felländer decided to risk his film. “I just threw it in there,” he says of his decision to place the film through the X-ray machine, damaging the film in part. “It has a light shooting through it, and it’s blurry and less saturated on that part of the film, which is a part of the process, I suppose.”
That incident is but a snapshot of how Felländer appears to live his life, a chain of little leaps into the unknown.
He credits the game of golf with leading him to photography. As a young man, golf became a way to spend time with his father, a surgeon for whom golf served as a source of meditation after a day in the operating room. Along the way he became proficient enough to win a golf scholarship to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine. According to the “Flagler College Men’s Golf Record Book,” Felländer is listed as a Saint’s letterman from 1995-98.
The athletic scholarship hinged on his maintaining good grades. So, he decided to take what he thought would be an easy elective — photography. From the moment he saw an image appear in the developer, Felländer says he was hooked.
“When I was at Flagler, I was obsessed with mimicking the masters like Ansel Adams, Robert Frank and (Henri) Cartier-Bresson and a bunch of other great photographers and making perfect images,” he says, indicating that he became technically proficient but lacked a style of his own. That lack became obvious when he entered the MFA program at San Diego State University. “I got to San Diego and I showed these images to my teacher there and he said these are great. They look just like what Ansel Adams did 100 years ago. It was like, ‘Where are you and who are you?’ Then I had a year of turmoil. I was trying to break out of myself, which I do every day now, still.”
To break Felländer’s habit of copying the masters, the professor encouraged him to experiment with old analog cameras. That led to a fascination with accidental images created by double and multiple exposures. Felländer left San Diego without completing his degree, but with a greater sense of purpose.
At age 24, he had such faith in what he was pursuing that he turned down a dream job with famed fashion photographer Irving Penn.
That unerring ability to choose the unlikely path also had great ramifications for Felländer’s personal life. In a round-about way, his decision to reject the Penn job offer resulted in Felländer meeting his future wife, Swedish actress Eva Röse, a petite blonde who stars in the science fiction series “Real Humans.”
They met in 2003, when he took her portrait for a fashion magazine. It was an assignment he took to pay the bills. With expenses mounting, he often reflected on his decision to turn down Penn’s offer to become his assistant.
“Up until now, I was convinced it was the dumbest thing I had ever done in my life,” Felländer says. “Up until 2013, when I had a show at Hamiltons Gallery in London, and they took down his show to hang up mine.”
IF YOU GO
Opening Reception: Jacob Felländer marks his U.S. debut with an opening reception on Dec. 6, from 7-11 p.m. Free to Art Basel VIPs, MOCA members, residents of North Miami. All others $30.