Interview: Christian Åslund

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Meet Christian Åslund.

Cruising down the aisles of the ever-evolving Internet, about a week ago, I stumbled upon the work of Christian Åslund. Vividly, it reminded of the (now) primitive video games I used to play with my big brother. Wanting to know what inspired his great vision and more about the artist, I reached out via email. Needless to discuss, his reply was prompt.

For 15 years, Christian Åslund has worked as a professional photographer for many organizations, most notable Greenpeace. In the beginning of his career, he studied Documentary Film. He did that for a year. Next, he studied Film Photography for another year before he was employed by a Norwegian newspaper. Today, he works as a Photojournalist; a lot of his work falls within that genre.

In 1998, whilst in school, he produced a documentary film about Greenpeace and since, he’s been connected to the organization. What’s that work like? For a couple of months, every year, he travels to Sweden, Denmark and Norway to complete various assignments. Two years ago, one of the largest things he’s done for Greenpeace had to do with Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster. He’d like to call what he does for Greenpeace ‘photo activism’.

As a part of his photo activism, Åslund and a few others, documented a “vertical catwalk” in front of the Levi’s store in Copenhagen, Denmark for Greenpeace.

“They called Levi’s to engage fully in the process of ending the use and release of hazardous chemicals in connection with the production of their clothing. In December 2012, Greenpeace did a worldwide campaign to make some of the biggest clothing companies work towards toxic-free fashion and clean water, to Detox. Fashionistas, activists, designers, bloggers – 214 000 people took action with social media activism. Activities against Levi’s was carried out by over 700 people in 80 cities simultaneously. In a week Levi’s had to bow to pressure from the global Detox campaign. The denim giant has now committed to eliminate releases of all hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chains and products.” — Åslund’s Facebook fan page

When asked if he was an activist, he replied, “Well, you can say — First of all, I’m a photojournalist but I wouldn’t do the things that I do for Greenpeace if I wouldn’t agree with the topic.”

Who inspired you as a photographer? Any fellow photographers or any greats?

I get most inspiration from my colleagues, here at work, actually. We share the studio. It’s the three of us. We do completely different things but it’s just matter of seeing them being active and helping out each other. I’m inspired by that.

Do you have any information on upcoming projects that you can share with GrungeCake?

The next big thing that I’m working on now is a collaboration with Greenpeace again. In the beginning of April, we’re going to do an expedition to the North Pole, actually. The Russians, Americans, Norwegians, the Danes and the Canadians are fighting about their territory and they all claim it’s theirs so they can drill for oil and you also have the industrial fishing industry.

The Russians have been up there with a submarine and they put a Russian flag on the bottom of the North Pole so we are doing the same, but without the submarine. We are going to lower it down on the seabed.

Greenpeace is going there to say it’s not a matter of any country’s, it’s the world that the North Pole and the arctic regions belong to and it should be protected similar to what they did with Antarctica and the South Pole.
We have more than 2.7 million people supporting the movement at savethearctic.org

“The problem is if there’s accidents similar to what happened with British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico then, it’s impossible to clean it up because of the weather conditions. It’s very remote and far away from anything”, he continued. “The more global warming there is, the more ice melts away and then, it’s easier for countries and companies to move up and continue the “oil greed” up there.

Are you listening to any music lately?

Yes, I do. I do. I listen to a lot of music.

Currently, what are you really into?

For the moment, in the background, it’s old Swedish folklore music. But normally, more house music actually I listen to. Yeah. the house music scene is big here in Stockholm as in Berlin and Amsterdam.

Do you like Swedish House Mafia? I just had to ask.

No, I’m a little insane of them actually. but they do pull a big audience. I’ve seen some clips of their concerts. Really big but I don’t like that type of music, really.

We laugh.

“They’re much bigger abroad than they are here.”

“Yeah, they’re all the rave here. Interesting.”

Now, the Hong Kong project. I read that you went to Hong Kong and you were on a rooftop with some friends and you started looking at the streets and you thought to yourself that “it looks like a two dimensional video game, so you wanted to photograph yourself as if you were in a 2-D game.” Is that correct and can you speak a little bit more on how that came about?

“Absolutely, it’s almost correct. It started after I had been working in Fukushima in Japan with the nuclear disaster there. It was pretty intense. I had a friend who lives in Hong Kong. So, afterward to decompress a little bit, I decided to spend a week in Hong Kong before going back to Europe and while there, he had access to the roof terrace. I spent most of the week chilling out on his roof terrace and just watching the surroundings, looking down on the streets. I’m Swedish, so it’s not that many people here, so we don’t have skyscrapers here or anything. It’s shorter buildings, so it was just new for me.

After a couple of days of watching the surroundings from the terrace, I sort of came up with the idea.”

As brilliant as the idea was, Åslund did not have the energy to muster. Previously, in a rather emotional situation in Fukushima, he just took test shots. Soon after, he went back to Stockholm. Whilst at home, he received an assignment for a shoe brand called “Jim Rickey”. They wanted to create a viral campaign. With a in mind, he decided to give it a go. He went back to Hong Kong with a very small production team of three.

“We didn’t want to bring too many people because it’d be too slow.”

The whole project was to get active on the rooftops. The time was to shoot it among the groups, model. It was shot from long distance, so the key was not so much about the look of the models but more so about the communication and how you place things on the ground. We could have shot it in the studio using the green screen. It is a better feeling when on location that superimposing on a green screen.

We found one of the models at the nightclub. Two or three days of finding locations. It took a while before the campaign kicked off. Almost a year. It was slow starting. Within the last couple of months, it became more of a viral thing.

“It made it to New York and it actually made me want to go to Hong Kong, believe it or not. You did your job.”

“The less branding you do in the shot, the more.”

Do you have any last words or anything you want to say?

Photography wise: If you haven’t been to Hong Kong since we’re talking about the project, it’s a really cool town and worth going.

Human to human, or aspiring photographers and photojournalists: If you have an idea and you have the project that you believe in just try to go out and do it. Whatever you have or someone financing it or whatever, just go out and do it. In the long run, you’ll gain from that. Not to sit wait for an assignment, to go out to shoot instead. You get much more inspiration of going out and shooting than trying to get inspiration from behind the computer. For me, it’s wasteful express if I’m not shooting something. That’s when I get the ideas for the next project.

From interviewing Christian Åslund, I learned a lot more about Greenpeace and their causes. I really like what they stand for and I admire their actions.


To see Åslund’s new work and the rest of his portfolio, visit christian.se. Tell him we sent you.

GRUNGECAKE