“The loneliness we experience when surrounded by people is the loneliness we try our hardest to hide.”
Margaret M. de Lange
Photography has always been a medium used to explore questions of identity. Questions about who we are, but also how we relate to other people and the world in general.
The camera being the permission to enter places not meant for everyone to see. For her project “Surrounded By No One” Norwegian photographer Margaret M. de Lange (born 1963 in Oslo) spent more than three years walking around with her camera photographing friends, family members, acquaintances and total strangers in a most intimate fashion.
Her subject: Loneliness. The loneliness of others and her own.
People are like mirrors to her, Margaret M. de Lange admits. In them the author of “Daughters” (2009) sees “the parts of me I’m trying to keep hidden”. Dreams, sorrows, flaws, yearnings – and her own loneliness. After all, we may feel close to others. Make friendships. Get married. Or just show our affection and love towards another person. But still we are unable to escape the capsule we are locked up in. Sentenced to fight our own inner struggles, and eventually coming to terms with the harshness of this world. In that sense, we are always alone. Even in the company of others we remain “surrounded by no one”.
People are mirrors. Just like a photograph reflects what’s in front of the lens in a given moment when the shutter-button is pressed. Maybe we don’t always realize that we are lonely. And it may seem like a paradox when Margaret M. de Lange states, that it’s precisely in the moments accompanied by other people that she becomes most aware of her loneliness.
The artist says: “Being lonely is not the same as being alone. The loneliness we experience when surrounded by people is the loneliness we try our hardest to hide. We all have aspects to ourselves that we try not to display. Aspects which are personal and vulnerable.” It’s these personal aspects that Lange shows in her images. They are silent reminders of struggles, failures, weaknesses or shame that’d we’d like to hide from others.
“(…) hard-lived lives seen through the vision of a photographer who appears to embrace everything and judges nothing.”
Arno Rafael Minkkinen
Blood stained sheets, half dropped-down panties, bruises, scars, tears falling down the cheek. Lange photographed people in situations where they thought that nobody would see them. Sneaking in, but not without permission. The result is intimate behind-the-scene glimpses at what people do when they are alone, safe and unobserved in their own private world. Uncensored. Yet they don’t appear voyeuristic. It’s not Lange’s intention to expose anyone. As Finnish photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen puts it in the essay at the beginning of the book: ” (…) hard-lived lives seen through the vision of a photographer who appears to embrace everything and judges nothing.”
The “black and white” in the images reinforces the message. The monochrome adds a sense of abstractness to the images. Gritty, sometimes blurry. Sandpaper-like graininess. Haunting and disturbing. Lange’s photographs tell stories beyond the subjects that inhabit them. They creep under our skin because we can relate to them. Their stories are our own.