The List met up with Sebastian Jacobsen, a 20-year-old from Trondheim who spent last semester in Paris, working on two photo series — «Nimby» and «Portraits of Exile» — which were exhibited at Isak gallery earlier this year.
Sebastian has been obsessed with photography since he was a kid. Before his Paris projects, Sebastian was unsure if photography was something he had the skills or commitment to pursue on a career level — but he knew he had the passion. So when he was serving in the Norwegian military, he decided to test his boundaries and began planning a photography project in Paris. After finishing his service, he saved up money, applied for funding, and flew to Paris, into the unknown.
The original idea was to portray the everyday life of a Parisian, but that quickly changed when he found La Chapelle. Hundreds of Afghan refugees were living in the camps of central Paris, many of whom were his own age. Sebastian got an urge to explore and his curiosity led him to get to know several of the boys in the camp. Sebastian developed a desire to ‘tell the untold stories’, so his project morphed into «Nimby» — a photo-journalistic project documenting the lives of the young Afghan boys in one of Paris’ last remaining refugee camps.
Sebastian’s photography enthusiasm was always motivated by a fascination with the photograph itself, and the search for the perfect image. However, in Paris, his approach to photography changed, and he realised it was something he could utilize to convey stories and possibly change peoples’ mindsets.
Through his camera lens, Sebastian wanted to explore how to best represent the situation in a way that would both be interesting for the audience as well as preserving the subject's dignity. It was important to him not to take part in ‘misery tourism’ and instead, form real connections with the people whose stories he’s sharing. With a combination of a few rather abstract photos with a lot of motion and some photos that disclose calmer, more static subjects, Sebastian encapsulates a strange sensation of never really knowing what comes next. That way, he captures the great uncertainty involved with being a refugee seeking asylum.
In addition to «Nimby», Sebastian also made «Portraits of Exile» in collaboration with French photographer and director Antoine Minjoz, which presents stories of exiled people without focusing on their camps or struggles. Instead, the focus lies on who they are and how they would like to be seen.
Sebastian believes the media has a tendency to cover these matters in a way that contributes to increasing the gap between the readers and the affected individuals. He thinks they’d benefit from approaching these issues from a different angle: to avoid the impersonal approach aiming attention towards numbers and systematic factors, and instead focus on the personal stories and let the subjects influence the direction.
Sebastian went a different way than most to reach his artistic calling. Instead of going to school first or finding the right ‘scenes’, he just went ahead and did a big project independently and even managed to have it exhibited at Isak gallery. In the coming months, he will be spending his time doing small photography gigs and expanding his portfolio, as well as saving up money while working at a nursing home, to hopefully be able to pursue another photography project in the near future. We are sure this is just the beginning for storyteller Sebastian, and can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Q&A with Sebastian Jacobsen
What was your introduction to photography?
I got a little yellow single-use camera when I was about six years old or so, and started taking photos on vacations, without actually ever developing the photos. I’d just memorize what I saw through the viewfinder, and create a mental photograph from it. So it was a whole different thing for me back then.
What’s your take on photography now? In what ways is it different from what it was like collecting mental photographs at resorts and beaches as a kid?
It has definitely changed since then. Now it’s not about remembering, but creating: to create a narrative, stories, awareness, and comprehension. I‘ve become aware of the power of a photograph, it has the ability to affect people, and that’s something that intrigues me.
From a photographer's perspective, what was it like working with subjects under such serious circumstances?
Well, I initially met them as a friend, not as a photographer. The people at the camp have lived brutal lives and had so many stories to tell. As we became friends, we’d exchange stories, and I could pass those stories on through the photographs. So for me, the camera was also something that helped me cope, like a shield, in a way. It allowed me to process the situation through a lens, directing my focus towards how to visually represent reality. It kinda creates a protective filter for your mind, gives you something to hold on to, and makes the situation more endurable.
Is there anyone in particular who inspires you?
Jonas Bendiksen. He managed to establish himself as a photographer without a conventional education in the field. He decided to do his own thing, become good at it and develop his own artistic expression, and he just did it. I think that’s cool.
Is there anything you want to tell others who might be curious about pursuing an independent artistic project as you did?
Just apply for stuff: project funding, grants, and venues to showcase your work. There are more opportunities and resources out there than people are aware of.
This article originally appeared in The List Spring Magazine 2023.