Viggo Rivad is the grand old man of photography in Denmark. He turned 90 in July 2012 and is still going strong – although he says that he has now done his duty when it comes to taking pictures. That is true. He has donated about 40,000 to the Photography Museum in Odense and to the National Library.
Viggo is my mentor. We met in 1983 when we were both members of a Danish delegation going to China, arranged by the China-Denmark Friendship Association. I had just bought my first SLR – Single-Lens Reflex – Cannon camera and in Tokyo, on the way to Beijing – I added an advanced zoom lens. He taught me a lot of “tricks” during that trip and his sense of humour became legendary in the group. We met after that trip too, now and then but not that often.
Viggo Rivad 2009 © Jan Oberg 2009
Photographers are usually not that happy about being photographed. Viggo was no exception, but in 2007 he accepted that I took a few shots of him in his small flat in Copenhagen where he had lived for decades. I felt it was an honour, an act of friendship – the feeling that I was accepted not only as me but also as someone who could take photos, someone he trusted.
Before I decided to set up my own studio and become more serious about photography, I consulted with many and sought their advice. I avoided some mistakes, but not all – perhaps fortunately. After having opened the studio in May 2009, the 2nd exhibition I arranged was with a selection of Viggo Rivad’s classical pictures – both black-and-white (which he is most known for) but also colours (which he wants people to take into account too). I felt that his works should be my first “real” exhibition.
It was a lovely co-operation; he selected the works, I made the rest and he came to the opening and many have mentioned him since then – the remarkable, serious but also entertaining and truly kind person, young at heart and, at the time 87 years old.
Viggo has acquainted himself with modern technologies and has worked a little with digital photos and PhotoShop. He has always been totally ignorant about selling and promoting himself. He also did not sell any in my studio. It took a long time before the really great awards and the recognition came. Perhaps, one, because of his humble personality; two because he was never really part of the arts community in Denmark. He insists on not living from his photography but for it – and has, therefore, financed his life by being a taxi driver.
When he had earned a good surplus from that, he would go for months to China, Egypt, Venice, China, Ethiopia, etc. – and come back with his pictures. His slogan was “See what I have seen” – but it goes without saying that this type of photography has become more difficult because, in these times, people go everywhere and see countries, people and cultures like they never did before (and post them on Facebook and blogs and Flickr). It has become much much more difficult to go somewhere and come back with impressions no one had seen before personally.
I am deeply grateful for what Viggo has taught me – without even trying or knowing that he has. If he teaches it is only by his example; I have never heard him say that I should do things this or that way. He has blessed me with his humanity in photography; the idea that it doesn’t help a bit to have a lot of expensive technology and gadgets if you cannot compose a picture and tell a story. He insist that a picture that tells a story but may, for a variety of reasons, not be technically perfect should not be discarded. He has inspired me to never seek to live from doing photography – although it is nice to sell and at least get your costs covered. (As freelance peace researcher I earn less, I guess, than most full-time taxi drivers). Coming to think of it, I think he has also taught me why I should not get stuck with an art gallery and give away my integrity and control of what I do and how I set my prices.
As a small – really too small – token of my gratitude for his friendship and his wisdom over 30 years, I decided to give him something he did not have and no one had thought before to honour his life-long contribution to art, documentary and humanist photography with: A homepage.
When I suggested such a thing to Viggo, his first reaction was that that was OK, of course, but no links to him and no opportunity to make online purchases. He wants to live in peace, to not be disturbed.
I did not get it ready for his 90th birthday in July 2012 – but we worked on it. He has selected the pictures it contains and I did the rest. (I still hope to squeeze more out of him!) It was ready in the autumn of that year but I wanted to include some shots from the largest exhibition Viggo has ever had, a retrospective with almost 180 photos that were shown at three places in Denmark, first at the National Museum of Photography in Odense.
Viggo thinks there are too many photos on the homepage of himself. “I am not interesting, if anything is about me, it is my photos” – he complained. Otherwise he was happy. I deleted some, but this was a bit my insistence that he is important and that he should let me do what he has done to thousands: Take their pictures and show them!
Here it is – much more to see and read. I sincerely hope that it will help Viggo Rivad to get some of the international recognition nobody has helped him to achieve. I think it is so obvious that he is world class and that is why the link to his homepage is found on every page of this blog. He also deserves to be rewarded for his unique devotion to the art of photography. After all Viggo took his first photos in 1943…