Although Danish-born artist Asger Carlsen works with a camera, one should not think of him strictly as a photographer. His work morphs and distorts images of the human figure like balls of clay, blending skin textures, bony protrusions, limbs, hair, and fluids into a seamless collage. Drawing on Surrealist conceptions of the body’s form, Carlsen has been quoted as saying that he hopes to destroy the notion of what the photograph is. Using heavy manipulation via Photoshop, his distortions toy less with the idea of the photo as a material object and more with the notion of an image being a document and the body as a material muse.
Photographs from his Canal series–his works are often named after the Chinatown streets in which he lives and works–combine pieces of clay with human body parts, the photographic subjects’ tactility hinting subtly at an existence outside the image. In interviews, Carlsen often speaks of the importance of his images’ maintaining an essence of reality. Carlsen, who began his photographic career as a newspaper photographer, says that the experience taught him the value of working with reality, and through it, by molding it, creating an image with a story. Although the figures he depicts are grotesque and unreal, he seems not to strive for formal effect or the tactile presence of the photographer-editor’s hand in the manipulation process; instead, he elects to include enough of a sense of “reality” in each image to suggest an objective documentation of form, or formlessness, a meditation on the human body’s shape.