Nearing the Abyss

by A. D. Coleman

The English language borrows the word chaos from the Greek word that means “abyss.” And, as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proposed, “[I]f you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

“Chaos” serves as the chosen theme for this 2024 edition of an established, annual, collaborative exhibition of work by a cross-section of young Nordic photography students.

Emmy Nyström offers solitary, lonely figures in brooding backstreet environments and situations. Birta Björgvinsdóttir isolates individuals in public, sitting or standing still as motion swirls around them. Rasmus Suomi contemplates the vibrantly coloristic, explosively graffitied walls of abandoned industrial structures. And Nora Fröberg provides fragmentary glimpses of the casual yet omnipresent disorder of our everyday citified experience.

Self-portraiture serves here as a vehicle for Jennifer Hallberg, Isabelle Ten, and Thea Sofie Gleditsch Stabell, the last-named of whom generates grotesque photomontages evoking the maddening effects of social pressures. More ambiguously, several projects involve performers who may be either themselves or surrogates: Ingrid Alvine Løvaas Roksvaag makes color time exposures of a blurred, agitated figure in motion, while Karitas Sveina Guðjónsdóttir, in a dark, brooding black & white set, seeks to evoke the emotional and psychological disturbances resulting from intimate relationships.

The directorial impulse underlying much of this work manifests itself in more obviously staged scenarios. In Erika Anouch Abrahamsen Anfreville’s formal portraits, her subjects randomly apply blotches of paint to their faces. Einar Ingi Ingvarsson imagines a young artist driving himself mad by trying to draw a perfect circle freehand. Milo Bergman seeks refuge from choas in tranquil, dream-like close-ups. Solveig Stenborg sets surreal small fires in bowls of food. And Simon Johannesson Tanggaard invents a murder in which “a human life is dwindled down to nothing more than meat in a plastic bag.”

Finally, two of these photographers find metaphors for chaos in the physical world. Mikael Issakainen makes time exposures registering the haphazard traces of nighttime automobile traffic, while Sveinn Hartvig Ingólfsson creates stop-motion studies of water in its disordered, “wild” state by initiating something akin to a tempest in a teapot.

Ranging from their late teens to late twenties, this year’s participants constitute the youngest group to engage in this series of projects so far. This makes them too young to have “gaze[d] long enough into an abyss.” They understand chaos not as a philosophical construct or a social, cultural, or political condition, but rather as primarily an internal, emotional, and privately experiential angst — or else, in a few cases, as an abstract, quasi-scientific idea. Yet, to varying degrees, they have brought themselves closer to the abyss. In time, some of them may look over the edge.


Bio note:

Based in New York, A. D. Coleman currently celebrates his 56th year as a critic, historian, and theorist of photography and photo-based art. His blog, Photocritic International, appears online at

© Copyright 2024 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved. By permission of the author and Image/World Syndication Services, [email protected]