The Tarn

Words by Andris Søndrol Visdal
Photography by Boe Marion

Although photographer Boe Marion grew up in Oslo, his strongest childhood memories are of nature; enduring cold harsh weather, watching the seasons come and go, freeze and thaw. From the age of eight, he took his point and shoot camera with him on hikes through the Norwegian wilderness, photographing everything he could; animals, both living and dead, mushrooms decomposing, endless swamps and frozen lakes, rivers flooding and running dry. Childhood enthusiasm evolved into a profession, and now, some twenty years later, exploring the connections between his memories of nature and his work as a successful fashion photographer, he’s published The Tarn—a saga of being lost in nature.


What inspired you to create The Tarn?
The book actually stemmed from the theme of an editorial shoot for SSAW magazine with Frida Gustavsson in Lesjaskog, Norway. It grew very slowly from there and for almost two years we saved small gems from every story we created for the magazine. I’d taken pictures on all my hikes in Scandinavia that I didn’t know how to present until now. I started shooting a lot more like that, as well as revisiting forgotten contact sheets from trips I'd been on ten-years earlier, where I found lots of old treasures and even some new ones as well.

The Tarn became a storybook, a saga about being lost in nature, about exploring every detail and juxtaposing it with human scale, zooming in and out as you flick between the pages. I really love how the book shows you something new every time you open it. I’m still surprised when I rediscover a picture I'd forgotten was in there.

The Tarn brings back memories of playing and exploring by the lake as a child. Has memory played a large part in the creation of the book?
The book is naive on purpose, in its natural and almost childish way of looking at the world. Nature is a dark, beautiful and safe place, and the book definitely has a lot of my childhood memories in it. I especially remember one day when we’d lost our way in the fog just a few hundred metres from our cabin, and how incredibly hard it was to find our way home, even though it was just a short walk away. I was terrified when I realised we were walking in circles around a seemingly endless swamp. Time really does move slower when you’re a kid.

The colours from that day in the fog are definitely in the book, and so are memories of skiing in storms on frozen lakes, where everything was tinted a bluish white and even the strongest reds of my parka seemed blue, of playing with bugs in the fields and picking mushrooms. Memories of building a bonfire in northern Norway in the winter, where everything was pitch black both when we shut up our tents and when we woke up to another day without the sun. I guess I subconsciously use these memories to create the colours and depth in the stories we tell.

In The Tarn nature plays as large a role as the models do. How does nature influence your photography?
Creating the feeling that everything is a whole was important. I wanted the viewer to be trapped in nature with the models. Growing up, I was so small I experienced everything from lower down than everyone else. All the smells, colours and sounds were much more immediate and clear. I’ve always been curious and respectful of Mother Nature. I wanted my compositions to have that same sense of immersion, putting the models not in front of nature, but in it.

Just like a doctor x-rays your leg, I wanted to x-ray nature, and create a saga around losing her every time you leave. It’s both technical and romantic at the same time. 

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Your experimentation with light in The Tarn is interesting—varying from harsh and bright, to subtle and soft. What is great light to you?
Light is always there, but to see it more clearly you need to complement natural light with something unnatural, or block it to create darkness. This way you create mystery and help focus the eye on what’s essential to that single frame. Just like painters, still photographers have no movement or sound to grab hold of the viewer’s eye. Great light to me introduces a sense of movement to a flat surface. 

The use of rich warm colours, often juxtaposed with cool blues and greens, seems to be a common thread throughout your photographs. What draws you towards this colour palette?
I love colours. I base them on my memory and I guess my memory is more saturated than real life. To be able to shoot in natural environments I often need to add complementary light, like the times we have used a flare, a bonfire or fireworks as a light source to shoot at night. The night is cold but, when we add the warm hues of a fire, we bring our own tiny sun. When you then put that picture next to one that has natural sunlight, they’re contrasting but still very much the same. We’re deceiving with light every time we add it, creating the juxtaposition between real and fantasy that I seek. 

Poetry is also a big part of the book. Tell me about how you merge poetry and photography.
The story was written halfway through the project by Kristine Marion Jaklin, who was inspired by the unfinished photographs to write about a world with no content and about nature as a living creature. Having her words next to me while creating the layouts and shooting the rest of the pictures helped me overcome a lot of challenges. It’s two strong stories alongside one another, making each other even stronger. 

Every spread in the book seems incredibly well-considered, where every image enhances the other. What was your goal when you started compiling the images?
This was a huge project for us, and the layout was key to creating a good story. It changed many, many times. Early on we had a chronology that we wanted to use as a framework printed on a big wall in my studio. That was our original story, the one we wanted to tell. Seeing the story on my wall for the first time was incredible. We then dived into each spread, solving the puzzle of colours and cropping very carefully. That’s when the photographs started transforming into what I’d wanted them to be all along, each spread existing as its own little world, in a larger world where the main story was being told. In many ways I worked on each spread as a single image. That meant going back and looking at the colours and contrasts again, frame by frame. A huge undertaking, but vital to get right. It’s difficult to explain, but this was the hardest part of making The Tarn. I even brought in new pictures right before the deadline.

First published in Volume Eight