Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen has traveled worldwide producing documentary images. He is known for The Roma Journeys, a monograph exploring the lives of Roma people spread throughout Europe and India. American Realities, his forthcoming photobook with journalist Natasha Del Toro, documents those under the poverty line in the US. Eskildsen is currently working on assignment with Time to document life and culture in Cuba.
NATASHA DEL TORO
Investigative reporter and Fulbright scholar Natasha Del Toro produces multimedia assignments covering injustice, corruption and other societal concerns. She worked as a staff videographer for Time, hosts America Reframed on PBS and traveled the US with Joakim Eskildsen to produce American Realities, an exposé on poverty in America. This work led Del Toro to collaborate on the 2014 Emmy-winning documentary, Hunger in the Valley of Plenty.
Expanding on a 2011 assignment for Time magazine, American Realities is a photobook and website by photographer Joakim Eskildsen and journalist Natasha Del Toro that documents the reality of people living under the US poverty line. Published by Steidl, the forthcoming book features photos and personal stories of the unemployed, the homeless and the working poor, who represent more than 50 million Americans.
Joakim Eskildsen is a Danish art photographer and documentarian who, over the past two decades, has captured images that unapologetically depict modern life and culture in numerous countries, including India, South America, The United States and most of Europe. Eskildsen has produced multiple photobooks, most significantly The Roma Journeys, a detailed monograph that narrates the lives of Romani in Eastern European countries. The collection consists of over 200 photographs collected from 2000-06 with text by writer Cia Rinne. More recently, he was commissioned by Time magazine to document the growing poverty crisis in the United States. As of 2011, one in every six Americans lived below the official poverty line. Accompanied by reporter Natasha Del Toro, Eskildsen traveled through New York, California, Louisiana, South Dakota and Georgia visiting the areas with the highest poverty rates and collecting hundreds of photographs and personal stories from the people behind the statistics—those who struggle every day to make ends meet. The staggering response to their Time photo essay inspired Eskildsen and Del Toro to broaden the scope of the project. The result is American Realities, a forthcoming photobook which expands upon their survey of poverty-stricken Americans, including additional photos, personal stories and anecdotes.
Where are you from?
I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I grew up. I studied arts in Helsinki, Finland, where I stayed for 13 years before returning to Denmark for three years. Since 2010, I have been based in Berlin.
What’s your story of getting started as an artist?
My interest in photography started when I was 14. My brother had learned to print pictures at school, and we both tried to make it work at home in our garage. The pictures were grey and blurred, but nevertheless I felt it was exceptional. From that day on, I knew that I wanted to be a photographer. I grew up in the countryside, and nature has always been my great interest.
Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?
As a child, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, a place that had stopped in time. Her garden was an adventure in itself. There was always plenty to do—chopping wood, digging up potatoes, cutting trees, painting the house, picking apples, flowers and strawberries. She got water from a well and [installed] a telephone very late. She used to tell me stories about her childhood in Sweden.
Since I started photographing, certain themes have recurred in my work. One of them is human existence in relation to nature. I believe my childhood experience and the people I know have been the most influential in my work. It’s difficult to say exactly what influences me today. I see all kinds of arts or listen to music, and I believe it is a mix of everything.
How would you describe your style?
If anything, I would hope for my work to be pure and honest.
“If anything, I would hope for
my work to be pure and honest.”
— Joakim Eskildsen
How and when did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
This was a free assignment from Time magazine. In 2011, Kira Pollack [Time’s Director of Photography] asked me if I would take pictures of the many Americans living under the official poverty line. I normally do not take assignments, but I thought it would be a great challenge that I would not have thought of myself and is very important to tell [the world] about. I tried to focus in a more general way on people dealing with hardship.
How does it feel to have accomplished this body of work? What was the process like?
The book is nearly finished—at this point, we are still waiting for a time slot in which the cover will go to print at Steidl Publishers. And it feels good to conclude such a project. It was a sort of test for me to see whether I could do assignments, too, and whether it would be inspiring to me. It indeed was.
What’s your favorite book, film, and music right now?
Also known as The Passion According to Andrei, Andrei Rublev is a 1966 Soviet biographical drama by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is loosely based on the life of 15th century icon painter, Andrei Rublev, with themes of Christianity, artistic freedom and the making of art under an oppressive government.
Right now I am reading Understanding a Photograph by John Berger, which is very interesting, and I never get tired of Bach’s music. One of the most beautiful films I have seen is Andrei Rublev by Andrei Tarkovsky.
What are your interests and passions outside of your art?
I collect different things—stories and old wood furniture found in the street, which I restore. And, of course, spending time with my children.
What’s next for you?
I will work on a book on Cuba, where I have travelled several times in the past years. There are several exhibitions I will have to prepare too, so there is always a lot to do.