Award-winning Magnum Photographer Jacob Aue Sobol made the legendary journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway, stopping in three unique cities — Moscow, Ulan Batar, and Beijing. He brought the new Leica M Monochrom with him, which proved to be a worthy companion. Whether in the Russian forests or the Mongolian desert and the mountains to Beijing, he managed to capture breathtaking moments in black & white through the lens of this revolutionary camera. The Leica M Monochrom is the first digital rangefinder camera to deliver digital monochrome photography in unrivalled sharpness and dynamic range, and Sobol's images are a testament of just that.
In the following interview with Jacob Aue Sobol, conducted by Complex's Video Director, Jonathan Lees, the photographer discusses his exhibition Arrivals and Departures and work exclusively with the Leica M-Monochrom Camera. Sobol shares how he discovered photography, in addition to his creative process, all while in the setting of the new Leica Boutique and Gallery in Washington, D.C.
I try to block out my mind, to be emotional and be open by any influence.
There must have been something about your upbringing in Denmark that inspired your approach to photography, perhaps the quality of light. I know it’s very specific. Tell me a little bit about your home.
My home country, Denmark, is a small country of five million people, but I grew up in the suburbs of Copenhagen with my twin brother and older sister. I was very closely connected to my twin brother, of course. We kind of created our own universe and had our own way of communicating with one another. I know that for many years, it was difficult for me to become independent and make my own life, because I’ve somehow always been living for him. In some ways, I still feel like I'm doing that, because we have that close of a relationship. Of course, it’s different when you have your girlfriend or a wife, in terms of it being a different kind of relationship, but with my twin brother, it’s something that I’ll always be missing.
You have a very specific vision, and it’s very contrasty with lots of crushed blacks. Let’s bring it back to the environment — was there anything from your environment growing up that led you to create this play on dark and light?
I think in Scandinavia, specifically the Northern part, you have a lot of different light in the summer and just darkness in the winter. In the winter, I lived in Greenland. There were two months where you didn’t see the sun, so it’s different. When the weather is not broken up into seasons, it creates a different mood.
I know I’d be in a different mood if there was no light for that much time.
But the light is different — it’s more contrasted.
What kind of mysteries were you looking to uncover as a budding photographer?
I always remember that as a kid, I was the one exploring things. I just had a basic need to explore and be adventurous. I think it’s also part of the environment that you grow up in. My mother was a photographer, and my father was a journalist. My grandfather was a photographer, so I was used to traveling a lot and seeing different places.
You were used to your relatives always having a camera in your face.
It's sort of a disassociation, but I know my friends get irritated whenever they go out with me, because I’m always snapping photos.
It’s strange, because I have all these images from my childhood. My mother photographed my entire upbringing. I don’t even know if I remember things from my upbringing, but when I look at her pictures, that’s when I see and remember the stories. I don’t know what is my memory and what is just looking at the picture.
You work almost exclusively in film. This was your first time using a digital camera, correct?