TORBJØRN RØDLAND: How Powerful is a Face?

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Orpheus’s tragic death leads him to a euphoric reunion with his wife Eurydice. “Here now they stroll together side by side,” Ovid writes, “and sometimes she leads the way, and Orpheus follows her, or sometimes he goes in front.” Orpheus’s primary obsession up until this point had been cheating death more so than being with Eurydice. It is only upon embracing his mortality that they become ontological equals.

“How powerful is a face?” photographer Torbjørn Rødland asks when pressed about his newest book, The Model. Though comprised of pictures rather than poetry, his intricately wound compilation very much mirrors, one could say, Orpheus’s futile journey towards his immortality. In the case of Rødland, the unattainable is Małgosia Bela, a fashion model [and star of an editorial by Zoë Ghertner in 032c Issue 24] whose “face” poses as an aspirational force – or even a threat to his mortality. What comes off as a documentation of a “real” photographer-model relationship ends up epitomizing our frantic endeavor to find a place in the un-reality of images.

Torbjørn Rødland. Images from "The Model" (MACK, 2017). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

Rødland’s lens uncovers a barefaced, wide-eyed Bela staring back at us. We see Bela showing off a garage sale find against the backdrop of a suburban neighborhood. We see her striking a casual pose in the midst of a crowd. We see her making a silly face towards the camera like a carefree child. These seemingly candid shots of Bela fool us into crafting an intimate narrative between the artist and his muse, and, by extension, ourselves. Intermittently, the book jump-cuts to photographs such as Bela on a billboard on Melrose Avenue. Bela on the cover of a Vogue propped on a newsstand. Bela as the face of a Chanel campaign in a window display. The Bela we see here is as human as the image of Rødland’s old Sony Erickson phone, its inbox filled with text messages from her – Malgosia 16-06-09, Malgosia 16-06-09, Malgosia 16-06-09.

As the book progresses, we find the mediated woman becoming more and more adrift in the hazy, liminal space between reality and fiction. Rødland asks the reader: “When and how does a picture of Małgosia Bela start being fashion? When and how does it turn into something else?” Perhaps it is somewhere in this myriad of Belas – candid, fashion ad, object – that the analogy starts materializing. Rødland even asserts that a photograph itself is a “model.” The frenetic obsession with which he nullifies every ounce of Bela’s humanity should not seem foreign. After all, it is with equal fervor that we seek to rid ourselves of mortality and romanticize the vain pursuit of the hyperreal.

Finally, we see Bela’s face superimposed against a cityscape and a forest – a gesture that seems to cement her place in this non-territory. Even when she is casually sitting in front of him in the last image in the series, with nothing obstructing the space between the pair, she is no longer present. In the end, Rødland succeeds in claiming his Eurydice. Or does he?

Or, more importantly, does it even matter?

The Model by Torbjørn Rødland 
is published by MACK (London, 2017).

Published in

Issue #33 — Winter 2017/18BERLIN KIDZ

032c Issue 33 – Winter 2017/18 “Berlin Kidz”

How do you write in an age of anger? By using text as a weapon to deface the establishment.

This is lesson number one of this issue’s dossier BERLIN KIDZ, which follows the anonymous group of graffiti writers, videographers, and train-surfers to the highest points in the German capital. Meanwhile in New Jersey, FRANK OCEAN lives out his exile on Main Street and receives a fresh glow from PETRA COLLINS and ALEX NEEDHAM. In two 032c archeological expeditions, MARIO TESTINO explores the shores of Pompeii, while KATERINA JEBB visits BALTHUS’s Grand Chalet for an editorial posthumously narrated by a conversation between the late painter and DAVID BOWIE. We delve into the psyche (and country home) of artist JORDAN WOLFSON and escape a Parisian hospital with JACKIE NICKERSON. Writer PANKAJ MISHRA explains why embarking on modernity was such a risky project and how we ended up in an “Age of Anger.” In a chilling personal essay, CEO MATHIAS DÖPFNER recounts his travels to the Nazi Death Camps in Poland. DANIEL RICHTER and LUDWIG LUGMEIER perform a séance on Jewish exile, Al Capone bodyguard, and lost modernist JACK BILBO, whilePIERRE-ANGE CARLOTTI imagines the death metal cowboys of Botswana in Berlin. We speak with ABRA, BJARKE INGELS, TACO, and JULIANA HUXTABLE, and last but not least, KRIS VAN ASSCHE, who tells us what it means to be an Homme on the occasion of his ten year anniversary as artistic director of Dior.

Also included with the issue are sticker pages featuring designs by AMBUSH, Geoff McFetridge, J.W. Anderson, SSS World Corp, Wes Lang, and Virgil Abloh c/o OFF-WHITE.


Learn more about the issue below:

For this issue’s dossier, Thom Bettridge climbs to the rooftops of the German capital with the BERLIN KIDZ, the city’s most notorious graffiti writers, who provide us with a how-to of public vandalism. Defined by danger and illegality, their practice is a map of how writing can escape the feudal boundaries of digital society.

For her first 032c cover story, “Exile on Main Street,” PETRA COLLINS voyages with Mel Ottenberg for a weekend with FRANK OCEAN, while Guardian’s ALEX NEEDHAM pays homage to the musical enigma in his essay “The Artist is Absent.”

Jewish prince. Gangster. Political refugee. Anti-fascist soldier. Barkeeper. Lost modernist master. The story of artist JACK BILBO is a winding odyssey, told here to 032c by writer and 1970s bank robber LUDWIG LUGMEIER. On the occasion of the artist’s first exhibition in decades, painter DANIEL RICHTER and Süddeutsche Zeitung Editor PETER RICHTER discuss Käpt’n Bilbo’s legacy.

On an archeological expedition to the shores near Pompeii, MARIO TESTINO and ANASTASIA BARBIERI bring us “I TRIED TO DROWN MY SORROWS BUT THE BASTARDS LEARNED HOW TO SWIM” – an editorial accompanied by Testino’s photographs of the lost city.

For “Le Grand Chalet de Balthus,” photographer KATERINA JEBB and stylist ROBERT RABENSTEINER delve into the legacy of BALTHUS by capturing the painter’s widow Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola and his daughter Harumi Klossowska de Rola in their Chalet de Rossinière. The editorial is accompanied by a conversation from the 1990s between the late painter and DAVID BOWIE.

In her latest editorial for 032c, JACKIE NICKERSONescapes a Parisian hospital with Mel Ottenberg on a quest for the fountain of youth.

“NOBODY WANTED TO SEE ANYTHING.” In a chilling report, Axel Springer CEO MATHIAS DÖPFNER visits Sobibór, Bełżec, and Majdanek – three of the Nazi extermination camps in Poland – to explore how quickly ignorance slides into genocide.

Why do we live in a culture of rage? According to novelist PANKAJ MISHRA, the origins of our political quagmire can be traced all the way back to the Enlightenment. In a conversation illustrated with skate bails by photographer SAM MULLER, Mishra discusses the future and its discontents with JACK SELF.

For their editorial “8,000 miles from Gaborone,” PIERRE-ANGE CARLOTTI and Marc Goehring raid Berlin’s leather stores and re-imagine the death metal cowboys of Botswana.

“I WANT TO FEEL MORE. WHERE DO I FEEL MORE? HOW DO I FEEL MORE?” In conversation with Thom Bettridge, JORDAN WOLFSON discusses the Faustian bargains he made at Bikram yoga class and his virtual reality film that shocked the world.

Since taking over the position of artistic director at Dior Homme in 2007, KRIS VAN ASSCHE has taken a consistent approach to men’s fashion at a time when the concept of menswear itself has been under siege. JINA KHAYYER sits down with the designer at Dior HQ in Paris and talks about his dedication to tailoring, opinions on macho-chauvinism, and his penchant for flowers.

In the “SSENSE Files,” we bring you scenes of cross-platform madness, including stories with ALEX OLSON, ABRA, BJARKE INGELS, DOUGLAS COUPLAND and TORSO, JULIANA HUXTABLE, and TACO.

In our “BERLIN REVIEW” section dedicated to our favorite books of the season, we limbo through the past and present: from tracing NASA’s graphic identity to dissecting the cashmere globalism of EMPORIO ARMANI MAGAZINE to studying the 1000-year history of PISSING in art to wandering through Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.

This issue’s SOCIÉTÉ de 032c first brings us to Seoul, where Korean rockstars HYUKOH take five to read the magazine in front of thousands of fans. We then fly over to Moscow to stretch before our pas de deux with prima ballerina POLINA SEMIONOVA, and make our way to Stockholm for a city tour with EYTYS co-founders Max Schiller and Jonathan Hirschfeld. After a detour with Gucci to check out the recently opened Zeitz MOCAA and catch up with its founder JOCHEN ZEITZ, we head home to Berlin to visit ANA RAJCEVIC and her animal masks at her atelier.

All this and more on 288 pages!