Interview with… Erik Alexander Percival Osberg

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Photos by Erik Alexander Percival Osberg

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I was born in Vancouver, B.C., Canada in 1983 and lived there until I was three. I am the third of four children and at that time my dad was doing a masters degree in forestry at the University of British Columbia and we lived in campus family housing. Afterward, my dad got a job with the provincial government and was employed in a northern town called Prince George, where I lived until I was seven.

Then we moved to Victoria, B.C., where I spent my formative years. After grade school, I enrolled at the University of Victoria and studied general sciences for one year, which I did not excel at. Then I took a year off, traveled and came back with a new set of interests. I took literature classes and philosophy and art history and film studies. And I fell in love and havenʼt stop being in love since. The more I learned about what contemporary art could be, the more I thought I might be good at it, and so in 2005 my partner and I joined what has become a strangely common pilgrimage from the west coast (Victoria and Vancouver) to Montreal, Quebec, and went to art school where I received two BFA degrees, in photography and film production. We decided to spend this winter back in Victoria, working normal jobs and living without much purpose, where itʼs warm. I have recently finished the application process to study fine arts at the graduate level, but I donʼt yet know the results of that endeavour, so I am unable to say where I will be in six months time or what I will be doing.

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1. Can you tell us something about you?
I couldnʼt think of anything to insert here that would be singularly meaningful, so I asked some people that I know to think of something about me and after two weeks of repeatedly asking them to think of something, they still hadnʼt come up with anything, so I donʼt think the question is answerable. But if anyone has specific questions, they can email me at erikosberg@gmail.com and I will happily discuss myself in concrete terms.

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2. Where do you live and work now?
I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

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3. How long have you been a photographer?
I started taking pictures in 2003.

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4. How did you get into photography?
When I was 19 I went treeplanting for the first time and I took notice of peopleʼs cameras more than I had before. When I returned home to go to university a friend of mine asked if, rather than go to school, I would like to hitchhike across Canada. Upon doing so, I bought a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm camera, because I thought I could make memorable pictures like the ones I remembered in my parentʼs albums.

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5. Where does your inspiration come from?
Before attaching the notion of inspiration to my work, I should make it clear that I accept the term not as revelatory or necessarily positive. That is, I can only talk of being inspired by something if the reader understands that the pictures I make arenʼt always reflections of my character and so that which inspires a photograph is not necessarily inspiring, personally. That being said, I donʼt think there is anything that I could conclusively refer to as uninspiring. I tend to put forth anyoneʼs ideas into pictorial form then display them next to one another.

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6. What does street photography mean to you?
While I was at university a photography professor of mine very excitedly told a story of when he and his friends all used to carry Leicas and shoot from the hip and how they managed to invite Lee Friedlander up from New York to hang out with them and they had a points based system for categorizing a successful image. Street photography is an extremely diverse and complicated thing, as far as I can tell. I think the Meyerowitz picture of the boy jumping off the bridge inCentral Park is really cool. I like people who take pictures dedicatedly. I have a friend named Ali Bosworth who takes pictures constantly, but I donʼt think he would categorize himself as a street photographer. There is something macho about the distinction at this point, I think. There are obvious limitations to the verité, capturing life, purity arguments that are so grossly spewed out in the introductions of old menʼs books and I suppose it wouldnʼt bother me if it was just nerdy middle-aged people who believed in it (like the aforementioned art school prof) but these days young people really get off on it, so I find it kind of automatically grating.

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7. Can you tell us something about your portraits, what is important to focus on for you?
The pictures iʼve taken that may be referred to as portraits surely donʼt have anything meaningfully in common with one another, specifically. Most of the time I take pictures that I think other people might take or have taken. I try to outline a set of reasons that one might look at an image. And I try to do that with each image individually. So instead of making a sweeping distinction that spans all of my facially-biased instances of picture making, I will simply say that I take pictures very carefully with regard given to other pictures I have already taken and other image/ideas I think the general public could be aware of. What people think of after looking at my work should be mixed and relatively personal, or I have failed in making a complex image.

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What are your future works, do you have a special project?
I just finished two music videos for my friend Andrew Reynolds, who plays music under the name Balacade, and I think we may do more. I am trying to figure out a financially viable way to make a feature length narrative film with some friends of mine. A few of us are going to drive down to New Mexico in May and Iʼm sure I will find something to photograph along the way. I took a picture of a Mariachi band in a local mall yesterday, so that might be a good image. Itʼs pretty hard to predict the future.

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