BREAKING: An interview with Angelica Elliott

By: Mynte Corell Nilsson and Victor Meyer Christensen

At the independent exhibition platform BREAKING at Fotografisk Center, you can currently experience the American/Swedish photo artist Angelica Elliott and her photo project Rågsved.  

As a photographic project, Rågsved started with a move, a need to start over again. For the last 7 years, Angelica Elliott has been taking pictures in Rågsved, a suburb south of Stockholm. We met Angelica Elliott online for a talk about loss, memory and finding her way home.  

Rågsved is a part of your photo project. In the preface to the book by the same name, you describe that the project started with a need to get to know not only the place Rågsved, but also yourself again. Can you elaborate on this need and how the camera became a tool in this process? 

I went through a very difficult time in my life just before I started this project. My previous boyfriend committed suicide in our home, and that changed me. I suffered from post-traumatic stress and was in shock for months. I couldn’t really function. Taking pictures and shooting was my way to escape, a way to feel at peace for a moment. I couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything, really. So, shooting was the only way for me to get away, step into my own little world where I was in control.

You have previously described a need for taking pictures as a way to create new memories. Would you like to tell a little about how you did find the camera helpful in this process of creating new memories and escaping old ones?

Since I was dealing with post-traumatic stress, I had a lot of traumatic “pictures” in my head. It wasn’t easy to get rid of and I still experience them from time to time, but it’s nothing like it was before. I found the camera to be my way to express myself, like I was saying before, I could dive into my own world through the lens. Taking pictures obsessively was my way of dealing with this. For example, I had this need every morning; I would wake up, I would take a picture out from my window. I was obsessed with that and did it every morning for years. It was my way to clean my memory after my sleep, to take a new picture and start a new day with a new image. It became a way to forget and to move on.  

You have described that you grew very attached to Rågsved, that the community makes you feel safe, and that it became your home. Home is often associated with a birthplace, a place of upbringing. How do you understand the concept of being/feeling at home? And what was it about Rågsved that gave you this sense of home?

I’m not born in Rågsved. Actually, I’m not even born in Sweden, I’m born in New Jersey (USA). For most of my life I grew up in Sweden though, so I don’t have that sense of home even in the place I was born. I think it’s very common. A lot of people don’t live where they were born or even know about the place where they were born. In Rågsved for example, approximately 70 percent are ethnically diverse. I think home can be wherever, for me it’s more a feeling of belonging. I moved away from home quite early, and I have lived in many different places in Stockholm before I moved to Rågsved. I have never felt this feeling in any other place before. I think that the fact that I went through what I did just before I moved to Rågsved plays a big part in the way I feel about this place. Rågsved is where I started my new life.  

How do you think that your attachment for Rågsved is reflected in your work? Do you think that an attachment can give a more nuanced reflection of a place?    

I wanted to make a book where the reader would understand that the place is important, and where the reader could understand that it’s the actual place where I live. Not only a place that I went to document. I worked with this especially in the sequencing of the book – the repetitive pictures shot through my window, the self-portraits inside my home etc. My attachment to Rågsved is personal – the story is personal. I’m not really showing Rågsved in a typical classical photojournalistic way. I wanted to show my personal attachment to Rågsved. So yes, I guess that it’s my way of a nuanced reflection of Rågsved, if that makes sense.  

When talking about the concept of being/feeling home, you talk about feeling free. In an individualized society, the idea of freedom is often described as being free to do whatever you please, to have no commitments. Your concept of freedom sounds more collective, that the feeling of freedom is closely connected to the feeling of safety. Can you elaborate on your concept of freedom?

Freedom can be many things. But in this case, my concept of freedom is definitely more collective and very linked to safety. After my trauma, this was the only thing I was longing for. I think that’s why this kind of freedom became so important to me. I remember just wanting 4 walls around me, people that I love around me and for people to be happy. That was all that mattered.

Selected works from Rågsved, as well as the book, can be experienced at the exhibition space BREAKING at Fotografisk Center, Staldgade 16, 1699 København V. 

Rågsved is on display at BREAKING from 24.04.21 to 22.07.21. 

BREAKING opened on the 24th of April with Angelica Elliott as the exhibition concept’s first artist. The exhibition concept is dedicated to upcoming Nordic photographers and lens-based artists where BREAKING is shown alongside Fotografisk Center’s main exhibition program. 

A special thanks to Angelica Eliott and the team behind BREAKING.

The book publication “Rågsved” can be bought at Fotografisk Centers bookshop:

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