A Pioneering Danish Artist Chases Daylight in a New Series of Quiet Photographs

Considered a pioneer of modern landscape photography in his native Denmark, Per Bak Jensen is as well-known for lush images of the natural world as for his stark portraits of abandoned industrial sites. Beautifully illuminating and harshly exposing natural light inspired his latest show, “Dagslys/Daylight,” now at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard in Copenhagen, where it is playfully accompanied by Per Inge Bjørlo’s “Nattsyn/Night Vision.”

Jensen tends to come in for the closeup, capturing the detail of a tree trunk in Trætop / Treetop (2015) or the pocked surface of stone in Gul / Yellow (2016). There are wider shots, too, photographs that capture tree lines, empty roads, and quiet, shadowy landscapes, as in Skumring / Twilight (2016).

That’s what these works have in common: quietness, shadow, the sense of impending dusk or the awakening of dawn. Daylight seems to reveal reality, while the night’s blackness temporarily obscures it. Children are often afraid of the night, but perhaps, as adults, it’s the day that frightens us. At night, after all, we can rest; it’s usually during the day that we experience the world, when we can see things as they are.

“From when I first picked up a camera, as a child, to now, photography has been the way that I make contact with and try to make sense of the external world,” Jensen has said. “In a way, I’m searching for the intangible, the unattainable, something that lies just beyond the immediately visible, but something that I take to be reality. It’s about my relationship to the world as I experience it.”

In 1986, Jensen became the first artist to enter the prestigious Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts with photography as a primary medium. It was a bold move: His decision went a long way toward elevating the status of photography in Scandinavian art circles.

Jensen creates these images with his own eye and camera, without digital manipulation. Observing their careful composition and dreamlike quality, it’s easy to see how he has helped raise the medium to its rightful place beside painting and sculpture.


—Bridget Gleeson


Per Bak Jensen: Dagslys/Daylight” is on view at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen, Oct. 27–Dec. 17, 2016.

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