Is art photography obsessed with the dark sides of humans and their society? If so, it should change.

October 8, 2020

It’s probably true to say that most people – I haven’t measured it – feel that we live in dark times. Just mention the environment, war and militarism, structures dissolving, poverty, global development goals never met, lack of political leadership, erosion of basic norms and ethics, corruption, sexism, the US/Western world falling slowly but surely apart, COVID, nuclear weapons and fears for what the future will bring – you name it.

While the media of course love all these things, we can also not say that it is just the media that convey bad news to us all the time. While lots of positive events and trends are ignored by them, the net character of the global situation – and in many countries – is that it was better yesterday than today and that we are far from sure where it will move in the mid-to-long-term future.

Please keep this in mind if you continue reading. Because what I shall argue is that art in general – including art photography – shall, of course, be expressive of its time and place but that it must also – to a larger rather than smaller – be an indicator towards alternatives. That is, look into good futures, create hope, express resistance…

Why? Well, not because I have a deep or surprising philosophy about what the essence of the arts is. Even less do I attempt to tell what other artists should do – but simply because of a more practical-political reasoning: The more we are exposed to violence, death, destruction, crisis, doomsday-like images, news, debates etc., the more we may come to see it as ‘normal’ and loose hope, the less we shall be willing and able to struggle for the desirable world, the good society, the common good or, say, Luther King Jr.’s beloved community.

That is, we stop believing in alternatives – in TINA, There Is No Alternative. Because we cannot see them.

And when we stop believing in a better future and the possibility that things can change – and that “we, the peoples” can change them – then we play exactly the role in that dark corner where the people and structures of power want us to be: The voting cattle that have no demands, ideals, criticisms, hopes and alternatives but are happy being “protected” even to the extent of losing our basic freedoms and being “guided” by elites who, to call a spade a spade, couldn’t care less about the citizens but care all about their own interests, benefits, privileges and profits.

It is in this perspective that I shall argue that the arts have a responsibility, even a duty: To open our eyes about the world we live in – really live in – and often how cruel it is, yes. But also to explore and share visions of the world we could be living in and help its audience to get going, take action to shape those better futures…

Yes, I put “future” in plural – “futures” – because there is not one pre-determined future for our country or for the world as a whole. There are countless alternative worlds possible. Authoritarian leaders build on TINA – There Are No Alternatives. I would like us to build on TAOA – There Are Only Alternatives.

By that I mean that the only impossible future is to continue doing what we have done the last 300 years in the West, particularly after 1945 and after the end of the first Cold War in 1989-90. That cannot continue and the Corona tells us that there will be no going back to “normal”.

There will only be progress toward The New Necessary Normal (NNN) or there will be no future. The Danish philosopher, designer and cosmopolitarian – also known for the aphorisms called Gruk – Piet Hein – expressed it with haiku-like simplicity many years ago: There will either be Co-Existence or No Existence.


These are things I have thought of before, because I am also a peace and future researcher. I’ve done research and teaching as well as some activism for peace and not just against militarism. But this complex of problems got very clear to me when recently I visited the leading art photo fair in Sweden if not in all of Scandinavia, the Landskrona Foto Festival.

Beyond any doubt, it shows high average quality, considerable diversity, many and highly topical themes – all the attributes defining fine curatorship.

So what was my problem?

Well, that at least 40% of the exhibited works focus on war, genocide, massacre, concentration camps, the suffering of particular groups of people, refugees and other ‘damned of the earth.’ And that much of the rest is either expressive of de-politicised themes, identity issues or experimental photography, constructed, stage-set or hybrid, and quite formalistic.

And it’s all pretty lifeless! No humour, satire, no attempt to depict beauty, conviviality, happiness. Or make the spectator think about peace and other positive values.

I mean, what is the point of displaying yet another series of (documentary) images of skeletons from history’s various massacres in the narrow, dark prison cells of a Citadel?

Is the assumption, perhaps, the – naive – one like the one surrounding Hiroshima and hibakusha films and photos, namely that by showing them the audience will be appalled and become more critical of warfare and other types of violence? (There is no evidence that it has such an effect – people are more interested in Hiroshima than in today’s nuclear dangers and war risks which are higher than at any point since 1945).

Is it part of the broader “violence industry” in which we also find the museums of wars and massacres and the Holocaust? But hardly any peace museums?

Or is it that it hits us emotionally and gets an “automatic” mileage, a little like if a photographer takes portraits of celebrities rather than non-celebrities, then she or he becomes famous more easily?

Why are there so many more images in this world of destruction than of construction? Of various kinds of violence than of peace?

The very important World Press Photo contest is another example. Just look at the photos on the link.

It’s filled with violence and suffering – and I am relatively sure that those who run these contests and festivals are not even aware of that bias or have discussed it. As if reality or the imagination or the creative impulse could not also be expressed through images of beauty and peace?


Now, when it comes to the World Press Photo, it of course reflects – more than other photography would – the general obsession in the media with negative, destructive and simply ‘bad’ news.

It should be obvious to any thinking human being that there are also good things happening in this world – people getting education, peoples being liberated, refugees returning home and building a new life successfully, reforms and societal developments that create better living conditions for millions, human stories of love, help, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness, etc. (But that is more difficult to find and convey – whereas supposedly you get a lot of emotional mileage by depicting the skeleton from a massacre).

But all that doesn’t qualify as news. Good news are bad news. Photojournalists catching such images would hardly get a job or become famous.

We have – amazing, deeply impressive – war photography. But did you ever hear about peace photography? Cooperation photography? Reconciliation photography? Or, photography depicting the common good, progress and welfare? Or the nonviolent struggles for that all over the world?

In this particular sense, all media contribute to creating the feelings of hopelessness and of “it-doesn’t-matter-whether-or-not-I-try-to-take-action”. Passivity – giving up. Or the end of democracy and the vibrant, dialoguing society.

In its consequence, it gives those in power a free reign. And by doing so also ignores the essential ideal roles of the media – and their photographers – as public educators, as critical “fourth estate” that operate to secure diversity and do their best to practise objectivity and reveal the abuse of power. And so too the press photographers – and the World Press Photo.


Perhaps we have come so far down the mental slippery slope of globalised depression that war and destruction is considered (un- or subconsciously) to be more ‘realistic’ and significant or ‘normal’ and everyday-like than peace, love, cooperation and beauty?

We live in an age influenced much more by images than by texts and even sound – also because everybody has become a kind of photographer.

What the hundreds of images we more or less consciously perceive during a day through all sorts of media tell us about the world is extremely important in shaping our worldview.

Well, you may say, it’s always been the case that the negative dominated and fascinated us, hasn’t it? Perhaps.

But if so, let’s become a bit more peace-creative, positive-conscious and re-balance it all!

Quite a few years ago I wrote to the HQ of the World Press Photo and, in friendly terms, pointed to the problems I have discussed above, albeit in a shorter form. I said I was willing to discuss it all, face-to-face or by mail. Neither the original letter nor the reminders moved the people there to reply.

Sean Scully in Venice 2019

VeniceOctober 9, 2019

If the Venice Biennale can be characterized by one word – which of course it can’t – that one word would be overwhelming. From May to end of November, there are 220+ exhibitions!

I was here all of May because I was setting up and following my Silk Peace Art Road (SPAR) installation at Palazzo Mora, at the European Cultural Centre.

I saw quite a few exhibitions – the official Biennale at Giardini and Asenale, Helen Frankenthaler (see my photos on Instagram), Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Fortuny, Cuban artist Carlos Quintana, lots of national pavilions around town and smaller experimenting places such as that with Iranian artists.

And now it is October and I am here again for a week, mainly because I want to be in front of my installation and talk with visitors from all over the world about it and about the future of the world.

I call them my Venice Future Dialogues.

But in between, I run around and re-live some of what I saw back in May and some new exhibitions.

Today I went by boat – the most expensive boat trip you can make in 2 x 2 minutes costing € 10 – to the San Giorgio island just across from San Marco. The purpose was to see Sean Scully’s multimedia exhibition/installation in and around The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore – an exhibition simply called Human.

Here he presents it himself…

The church, the various building around it, its adjacent rooms, corridors, yard and park – all is used by Scully in fascinating ways that have – naturally – religious undertones but also proves the diversity of Scully and what he is – yes, large paintings with controlled and forceful brush strokes but so much more than that, including huge sculptures, drawings, watercolours and, of course, sketches.

It is obvious that he has thought deeply about how to “fill” that unique milieu, history, architecture and beauty of San Giorgio Maggiore.

I am not an art critic, I am an art recommender. I am also not a connoisseur of Sean Scully and I shall make no attempt to explain “Human”. Read instead the links at the end of this article.

But I am, indeed, an admirer of his simple-looking, yet complex paintings. I imbibed every corner of “Human” during the 2-3 hours I was there and felt very happy I had chosen that exhibit (and just a few days before it closed).

The combination of the church and Scully’s works even inspired me to experiment with some photography there and then. It’s about blurring.

Because, while Scully’s brush strokes are certainly not blurred in themselves, his paintings blur the borders between fields and send all spaces and patterns – vibrantly – on the move.

But until I’ve experimented with them, I let the photos from that lovely exhibit speak for themselves.

More about Sean Scully

Scully’s homepage

WSJ’s article about this exhibition

Artlyst on the Human exhibition

Blainsouthern about Human

Scully With Turner at London’s National Gallery

Video in The Guardian from Scully’s studio in Germany (2011)

Sean Scully – My therapist sent me away…


Asger Jorn, the Museum – and me

July 4, 2019

I’ve just visited Museum Jorn in the heart of Jutland, Western Denmark, and thought I would put together a few notes of a personal character. I am no expert whatsoever on Jorn – Denmark’s most important and most internationally well-known artist in modern times – but I happen to have a personal relationship to Jorn without ever having met him. So take it for what it is…

Asger Jorn (1914-1973) was, through and through, a “wild” artist, a “situationist”, experimentalist and provocateur. He believed in the working principle of taking his ideas to the extreme. He was a painter, ceramic artist, book and manifest author, printer, sculpturer, he did murals in e.g. Cuba, and more.

Asger Jorn – or, originally, Jørgensen

He was indeed A Restless Rebel – the title of the wonderful catalogue book for his centenary exhibition at the National Gallery of Denmark, SMK, (in cooperation with Museum Jorn) in 2014.

That said, he seems to have cherished dialectics; he was always working with people in various groups and movements but also defining his works in opposition to this or that “school” or fashion of his times.

The most well-known of which he was a member was, of course, CoBrA. He was very political – radical leftist, a member of the Danish Communist Party – and always applied a philosophical approach to his works as well as his role as an artist in society.

Here his book on “Value and Economy” with just a little sense of humour and published by the Scandinavian Institute for Comparative Vandalism…

Continue reading Asger Jorn, the Museum – and me

Instagram and Facebook lack education in art

It has happened before and lots has been written about it. Still!

We’ve got to keep on pounding the argument: It is not acceptable that Facebook and Instagram practices censorship of art works.

It’s about the usual, bizarre doze of American puritanism. Remember that President Clinton was close to impeachment for his affair with Monica Lewinsky but not for his bombings in Yugoslavia without a UN mandate, the bombings in Afghanistan and Sudan. He was the one who broke all promises to President Gorbachev in Moscow and began the fateful expansion of NATO and it was Clinton who upheld the sanctions on Iraq after 500.000 innocent Iraqi women and children had died.

But it is also about modern technology, about image recognition by AI, or whatever methods they use. Unfortunately, these technologies cannot see the difference between a woman’s breasts in a renaissance painting and one in an image of pornography.

Until other methods are practiced by Facebook/Instagram, I shall deem it censorship based on illiteracy about art and culture with the aim of being politically correct within the framework of North American puritanism.

Only human can. But then they would not have enough human beings sitting and browsing billions of photos and other images on Instagram and Facebook.

Continue reading Instagram and Facebook lack education in art

At the Venice Art Biennale 2019 – Purvis Young

Venice, Italy – May 17, 2019

It’s high time to resume writing here – the place where I write only about other artists – exhibitions, artists, fairs, art articles, reflections on what I see.

I spend the month of May here in Venice. I came on May 1 to set up my SPAR – Silk Peace Art Road – installation at the beautiful Palazzo Mora of the European Cultural Centre – having been invited to participate in the “Personal Structures” exhibition.

This exhibtion as well as the Venice Art Biennale opened on May 11 and while I was working on setting up SPAR, I also walked around the Mora Palace to see the works of other artists (more to come…) and came upon a room of extraordinary beauty that dragged me in and gave me the immediate “this-is-something-special” feeling.

It was the room next to the reception where the Skot Foreman Gallery had filled the walls, collage-style, with the works of Purvis Young.

Skot and I got to talk and he told the story about Young and their friendship. Here is what came out of that happy encounter…

More about Purvis Young


Miami Herald




This blog changes as of September 1, 2018

As of September 1, 2018 this blog will no longer contain posts about my projects, works, exhibitions etc. and also not contain copies of newsletters I send out.

That will all be found on my new comprehensive photo homepage under some of the new menus there, among them “Journal”.

This blog will be devoted to posts that focus exclusively on other artists, their works, and thoughts and/or on my travels to fairs and other spaces of art where I want to share positive experiences about somebody else’s work.

Most likely, there will also be fewer posts here in 2018-2019 since I am engaged completely in the SPAR – Silk Peace Art Road – project that you can read the first description of here on this blog but follow on the new platform under the SPAR menu.




Facebook’s “political” and “nudity”: Two stories about art censorship

For the sheer fun of it, I had created an image of President Donald Trump as a pastiche on Andy Warhol, a little “old Warhol-style.” It took me about 15 minutes and there was nothing political about it – it was merely a fun exercise.

Here it is:


I posted it on my Instagram account and it was liked at least as much as most other stuff I post there. Then I got the idea to use it as an ad with a CTA – Click To Action – for people to take a look at my Instagram profile – a frequently used method to get people interested in who you are and what you do and then, perhaps follow you.

I designed it, put a few words on my ad, defined the audience to be reached and chose to promote it with US$ 20. And sent it off. It took twenty minutes, or so, until Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – sends me this message:

“Your ad was not approved because your Page has not been authorized to run ads with political content.” This is followed by two links, one on which I can appeal – which I did at no avail. The other tells me how to complete the authorization process (to publish ads with political content in the future.

Continue reading Facebook’s “political” and “nudity”: Two stories about art censorship

SPAR – The “Silk Peace Art Road” Project

Lund, Sweden –
March 8 to July 16, 2018. No longer updated here.
But all about the project on my photo homepage launched on September 1, 2018 here.

Jan Oberg, Oberg PhotoGraphics, has been invited by the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation and the European Cultural Center to exhibit at Palazzo Mora in Venice in the context of the Biennale 2019.
This exciting opportunity stimulated the development of a bigger idea that combines Oberg’s work for peace and art photography with a focus on the Chinese-initiated Silk Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the largest and most visionary in today’s world in terms of linking people and cultures into cooperation rather than confrontation.
In various ways the project – with the Road as metaphor – stretches from China over Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Iran and Syria to Venice and seeks to promote cooperation and peace in the process.
The “Silk Peace Art Road” – SPAR – project is made public at this very early development stage where only little funding is secured to encourage you to share co-operative ideas, contacts you may have in China and along the Silk Road or to potential partners, artists, sponsors, art institutions, etc.

Summary in 7 elements

1. To stay in China for some time and then travel along the Silk Road.
2. Make use of selected existing archived materials such as photos I’ve taken in China 1983, Myanmar, Somalia and Somaliland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Aleppo in Syria and Venice which are all situated on the:
3. Old Silk Road and on the new Silk Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that China initiated and which my work will evolve around, and:
4. Combining some of the old photos with new ones and various other materials and artefacts into a completely new multimedia creation (one big or several smaller related to each other), and:
5. Exhibiting it all at Palazzo Mora, Venice, in 2019 in the context of the Biennale (May 11-Nov 24) and documenting the process on Instagram, my blog and perhaps also, later, in a book.
6. The project seeks to explore relations between art, the emerging new world order, and history in the future as well as the interactions of cultures, people and expressions, and finally:
7. It will build synergy between my two ‘lives’ as academic peace & future researcher and art photographer.

[175 words]

Continue reading SPAR – The “Silk Peace Art Road” Project

Update 2018 – Past, present and future dreams


Oh, how time flies! It’s about two months since I posted here and we’re already well into 2018.

I have an excuse, an acceptable one, I think: I’m working fulltime for peace!

But, first – here the three main points in this belated New Year greeting:

• The last two months devoted to peace

• 8 short videos to inspire you

• Dreams and plans including Lund, China and Venice.


Walking on two legs but still looking for the right balance

While I am a photographer who experiments with what “peace photography” could be, I’m also a professional peace and future researcher and director at The Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research, TFF, in Lund, Sweden.

And, so, there are periods during which I have to devote myself to international affairs. It’s not entirely voluntary, I must say, because I really feel I need the artistic activity, the “flow” and the intuitive exploration of the world around me – to balance my research life which is more disciplined, methodical, and – supposedly, at least – rational.

And I would add, there is much much more positive energy in working with art than working with international affairs.

My main occupation is to argue against most of the horrific (nuclear) weapons and wars (can’t know about or cover them all…) and other violence and argue for the simple, logical principle embedded in the UN Charter, namely that peace shall be brought about by peaceful means (Article 1).

Think about it: That is what all the UN member governments have signed once upon a time. And completely ignore every single day.

So I have two identities or persona. I walk on two legs and I cannot always find the right balance.

The shadow of certain world events throws itself over the fields of art and photography where I’d like to spend much more time.

So to solve that impossible equation – two fulltime jobs – what do you do?

Well you study management and you develop practical, daily working methods, you work basically all the time – which is possible when you love what you do and you don’t do it for money (all I do with TFF is unpaid, we’re an all-volunteer foundation). While I have little income, I live a rich life. I don’t complain – just I need 48 hours per day at least and living till I’m 120. That’s all…

Continue reading Update 2018 – Past, present and future dreams

McArthur Binion at La Biennale 2017

I have been ignorant about this great artist – found him at the Biennale in Venice in 2017.

So complex and sophisticated, yet so simple and beautiful. Incredible variation in image from far away and very close. Magic. Enjoy.

Here is my 1-min video at Instagram – follow !

More about him here on ArtNews.