Simplifying Oaxaca

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You just finished a 10 day intensive workshop with Mary Ellen Mark in Oaxaca, Mexico. How did it go?

It was my first workshop as a student. I’ve worked for all of Mary Ellen’s Icelandic workshops so it was real fun to be on the other side. It was a lot of work and time flew by real quickly. I decided to try something different, and Mary Ellen also encouraged me, to include people in my pictures, which I almost never do. I am really happy with the work that I did in Oaxaca and I am really satisfied with the workshop.

What inspired you about Oaxaca as a destination and photographic subject?

I had been planning to go to Oaxaca for a few years. Mary Ellen always said that I would love it there so this year I decided to go for it. I really didn’t know much about it except the work I’ve seen from other workshops. I had never been to Mexico before so this was a whole new experience for me.  I really liked the city straight away and I saw it would be a challenge to do something new there, but I didn’t think too much and went shooting straight away just to get in the mood.  Oaxaca is a really beautiful place, the people are friendly. I don’t speak any Spanish but I managed to get by really well. It is of course totally different from Iceland where I live and then of course its totally different to photograph there as well.

Your style is simplistic, yet the viewer really gets a sense a place from your photographs. How did you develop it?

My style has been developing for many years. I got a job in a photo lab 8 or 9 years ago and then started taking pictures. I saw so many pictures every day so when I went out shooting I wanted to do something different from everybody else. I had been drawing since I was a little boy and my style there was always really clean. I also did graffiti for many years and that was my style there as well so shooting simple, smooth photographs came naturally I think. I like excluding small or big things from their environment and giving them the exposure that I think they deserve.

Tell us about shooting in Oaxaca. What was the hardest thing? The best thing?

The hardest thing about shooting in Oaxaca is the hard light in the daytime. You get really hard shadows, but I sometimes decided just to use them as a element in my pictures. The best thing about shooting in Oaxaca is that I had never been there before and the subjects were all new to me… but that isn’t always a good thing.

What other projects are you working on?

I been working on a book about Iceland for some time and I will continue working on it for a year or two.  It started out being just about Iceland in wintertime but I am thinking of including the other 3 seasons as well. Me and Jörgen Hjerdt, who was also in the workshop, are planning to do a show together with pictures we shot in a slaughterhouse in Oaxaca.  Hopefully we will do a show in Sweden and in Iceland but we’ve only just started working on the concept. We are also starting to plan Mary Ellen’s workshop in Iceland later this summer. There are still empty spots in it so sign up if you want to join.

Björn Árnason is a 34 yrs old photographer who was  born and raised in Iceland. He lives with his wife to be, son, daughter, cat, and bunny. He’s a beer lover and head of a beer club called Humulus Lupulus with friends.



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