Interview Le Bizarreum Klaus Bo .pdf
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Hello Klaus, thank you to accept this interview for the blog. As you know, this blog is a way to
speak about death with articles about many subjects. Can you introduce yourself to readers?
I am Danish photographer based in Copenhagen. I picked up photography as a hobby while studying
music at the Royal Academy of Music. After graduating from the academy, I started my own business
as an autodidact professional freelance photographer. From the very beginning of my career, I have
been focusing on social and cultural stories, documenting on many different issues, including Iraqi
refugees living in Syria, the Coptic garbage city in Egypt, the masked women of southern Iran, the
Holi festival in India, the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, refugees in Tunisia fleeing Libya and
many more. He has been working with organisations as CARE (Niger, Nepal), Doctors Without
Borders (Haiti) and lately with Danish Refugee Council (Iraq, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti).
In 2010/2011 I began working on what has become my life’s work – the Dead and Alive Project,
documenting death rituals and how we relate to death around the world. Until now, I have been
photographing death rituals and stories related to death in Greenland, Haiti, Guatemala, The
Philippines, Nepal, India, Ghana, Madagascar, Denmark, Indonesia and Romania.
I discover your work on Instagram some years ago and I was really impressed by everything you
posted and especially by portraits always done with respect. Do you want to share with viewers
something special through portraits as feelings or situations?
One thing is photographing situations and doing reportage photography, but I have always found
portraits very interesting. I have done a few projects on portraits some years ago. To capture the
essence of a person in one image is about interaction, empathy and how you connect with people.
With my portraits, I try to show emotions and I try to show more facets of the same person in one
image. And when looking at a strong and intimate portrait, we often emotionally put ourselves in the
situation of the portrayed, and then we get closer to our own feelings. A good and strong portrait is a
portrait you can relate to and feel deep inside of yourself.
In your work, your series of pictures about mourning around the world are really interesting and
also intimate. I imagine that you need to ask to people if they are okay with the fact that you will
take pictures during funeral? Since when do you start to work about it ? Is it easy to be accepted
during these events?
I started working on the project back in 2010/2011, but the first image that led to the beginning of
the project, I already shot in 2002 at a funeral service in a mosque in Copenhagen.
It takes a lot of effort to get as close as I do, and to get permission to document these funerals and
death rituals around the world often takes a lot of time. On the other hand, in many of the places I
have been, people don’t see death as a big taboo like we do here in Scandinavia and many other
countries in Europe. So it makes it a bit easier. However, my trips usually take two-three months. In
some countries I have attended five to seven funerals/death rituals to document the diversity within
the rituals practised and simply to get the best images possible.
And of course, you have to respect certain rules during the rituals. It takes a lot of patience and
compassion, (but luckily I sincerely enjoy being with the families in these intimate situations.)
To me, your work is like a modern way to do social anthropology of death. This is really interesting
to see how people organize funerals around the world. Isn’t too complicated to work about that
and show your work to people on internet or during exhibition? The subject is really taboo in many
Actually, I have already had four exhibitions in Denmark, where death is a huge taboo. I do also give
talks and had quite a lot of articles printed in magazines and newspapers and interviews on television
and radio. Basically, when people first hear about the project, they don’t understand the idea and
they really can’t imagine that it can be visually interesting. Death rituals!!! It really shows how big a
taboo death is around here. But then, when I start showing them the images, they usually get blown
away and totally surprised over the diversity on how we relate to death around the world.
That said, it’s not easy working on a taboo like this. Sometimes it can be really tough to get people
interested, and I think I spend at least 25-30 hours a week working on Dead and Alive Project. And so
far, the whole project is self-funded. I sold my summer house and my car, I quit my office space and
recently I sold all the equipment I can do without. And now, my biggest problem is how to move on.
By the way: Lately I got banned from boosting posts on Instagram and Facebook due to the subject.
Do you only work about death now? Do you thing that the fact to start a work about death gives
you a passion about that and desire to explore the world and immortalize new situations?
In my photographic career, I have always been documenting on social and cultural issues around the
world. Many photographers are doing that, and it is important work, but I wanted to do something
else. I wanted to do something that all people around the world could relate to, no matter what
religion, culture or ethnicity they belong to.
As a child, I was very afraid of sleeping. I felt sleeping was very close to dying, and most of the time, I
couldn’t remember anything, or just a little, from my dreams, so to me it actually was like dying, and
I was crying many evenings before I fell asleep.
Out of this fear, and out of an invitation to a Muslim funeral ceremony in Copenhagen, I realised that
death and how we relate to death around the world, would be visually interesting (I am a
photographer ;-)), and documenting the rituals related to how we bid our beloved ones the last
farewell or celebrate our ancestors, reflect the lives of the living and the cultures the rituals takes
place in. So, the project is actually also about life reflected in one of the only things we have in
common across cultures, borders and religion.
The project takes up all my time. When I am home in Denmark I promote the project, give talks and I
work for various magazines and clients as a freelance photographer to save up money for the next
What was the most powerful moment of your career in photography?
Once I was doing a story about Iraqi refugees living in Syria. Denmark was participating in the war in
Iraq, and I wanted to show some of the consequences by documenting the huge flow of refugees
coming into Syria every day.
After some days in Damascus, I met up with a young man, Ibrahim, who wanted me to photograph
him and tell his story. He was 21 years old and had been severely tortured by various groups of
insurgents in Iraq. Somehow, he managed to escape Iraq, but I am quite sure he must have died from
the wounds the torture left on him. He had been set on fire, drilled in his chest and so many other
unbelievable things during the torture. He posed for me, and I was crying when I took the images of
his destroyed body.
Do you think it’s important to show death and rituals about them during our century?
Yes, definitely! For some reason, it seems to me that the more “modern” a society becomes, the
more death becomes a taboo. We don’t want to realise, that we eventually are going to die one day.
Maybe because modern societies tend to leave religion and beliefs behind and into a more scientific
view on the world and on life, death and especially life after death. Therefore, most people in
modern societies don’t believe in any kind of an afterlife meaning that life becomes definite.
In many cultures it is believed, that the afterlife is very similar to the life we live now, just
somewhere else. But when life becomes definite, I think it is very important to talk about it and
relate to it before it is too late, so it doesn’t come like a big surprise.
Maybe without telling us secrets project, for the next months and years, have you some new
projects about death?
Dead and Alive Project is my life’s work, and I will continue working on it for the rest of my life I
think. I am planning two-four trips this year to finish first part of the project - it all comes down to the
funding though. But I recently signed a book contract, so I have to choose my next trips carefully to
make sure there will be a good diversity in the rituals in the book. I have also started to include video,
and will soon start a fundraising campaign, since the budget will be quite high.