Danish artist and former crime-scene photographer Asger Carlsen has been mutilating the human form with his photographic sleights-of-hand for years—and so it only made sense to put him in a room with white-hot photographer Alex Prager, who spent the better part of her high school years selling knives.
ACT I: BEAUTY
ALEX PRAGER: Name a painter who inspires you.
ASGER CARLSEN: Francis Bacon.
Oh yeah, of course. I can totally see that. What is your idea of beauty?
Beauty magazines don’t really do anything for me. I think beauty is something that is personal.
I always wanted crooked teeth.
I mean, who wants to look normal?
A lot of people!
I don’t want to look normal.
Well, you don’t. You look like a sweet little alien.
Perfectly normal is just not interesting.
I agree, but why do you think you feel that way? Do you disagree with most beauty standards?
When someone makes something really beautiful, I just want to tear it apart.
Does it become more beautiful as a result?
It becomes interesting, and that’s everything.
Do you think of your pictures as beautiful?
[Laughs.] I mean, I think they’re cool. . .
I said beautiful, not cool! During what historical period do you think society most closely shared your perspective regarding beauty?
I guess I really like the Surrealists.
That’s what I was thinking for you. I love that period. Are you talking about the women at that time, too?
Yeah, I mean, what went on… I would have loved to be a part of that Paris scene.
ACT II: DISABILITY
What is one of the benefits of having no arms?
You won’t get phone calls from people who want you to help them move.
Why do you shoot bodies in black and white? Would you ever consider color?
I would consider it, but I just like the simplicity. I like the fact that the black-and- white photograph is so heavily linked to the history of documentary.
At what point is the human body not human anymore?
It’s definitely not human when it’s been through my computer regime!
[Laughs.] Why do we see certain disabilities, such as war injuries, as symbols of strength, but not others?
I’m really trying to refrain from having my pictures be about disabilities. I don’t want the story to conclude itself.
I don’t see disabilities in your pictures at all, just so you know.
I’ve been looking at a lot of medical books, and a lot of the time I’m doing things that are too close to some terrible medieval disease, and that doesn’t inspire me. The work should be considered as more of a relief from something that isn’t real.
When I look at your pictures, I feel a little warmth toward the subject. Do you think that’s a common reaction?
I’m not really trying to be funny with my work, but I do like it when things aren’t too concrete, which can sometimes come out as funny. But I would leave it up to other people to conclude if it’s funny. I’m not trying to be a comedian.
I don’t think it’s comedic. I feel more sweetness toward them than wanting to laugh at them. I’m excited to see what you do over the next 10 years.
Yeah, you’re one of the few photographers I really admire who’s around my age, and alive.
Likewise. I wish you could photograph me!
I will, eventually, for sure. I don’t know if it’s going happen this time, though. I need to finish my series.
If you and I decided to collaborate on a series in the future, what would you want that series to be?
Are you interested in beauty?
Of course, I’m a girl!
Yeah I get that sense from your pictures, and since I’m also interested in beauty, I think it should be about beauty. I think that should be the collaboration.
That would be fun. What makes a body beautiful?
First of all, I know some people mistake my images for me trying to question the human body or something. I’m just really lazy, so for me it’s just easier to take what’s right in front of me. I just happened to have these images from a girl I photographed. That’s pretty much how I started.
You thought it was interesting?
I just like to use what’s right in front of me—materials I have in my everyday life. I think it’s interesting to mess around with the most boring, normal things you can find.
I think you do a good job at that.
Is elective plastic surgery always vain? If I wanted to get my cheeks implanted so they’re puffier, do you think that’s wrong?
My advice to you would be that you don’t need it.
What if I wanted to get my arm lengthened? Just my right arm?
Well, maybe that would be fun. I don’t think you need anything. Do you think you need anything?
That’s a good question! I should have asked you that. I’ll answer it and then you can answer it. If I could choose one thing to change, and I didn’t have to go under the knife to change it, and I didn’t have to put any toxins in my body to change it, I would make my legs longer.
You would make them longer?
Yeah. I think long legs are really nice. What would you do if you could change anything without toxins, chemicals, or surgery?
I don’t think I would do anything. I think there’s nothing more inspiring and cool than someone who is okay with who they are.
But that doesn’t mean I think everyone should be careless or lazy, or that they should just eat whatever they want. That’s not inspiring.
ACT III: EPIPHANY
I don’t know if I can do photography anymore after this.
What do you mean?
Like, I don’t know if I can do it.
You’re over it?
No, I think I’m becoming afraid of it a little bit.
What are you talking about?
I’m talking about, like, can I still do it?
Because you’re not sure if you have it in you to take another good photograph?
Maybe it would be better to leave it and try to do something else.
What would you do?
I don’t know. I think it could be interesting to take the ideas that come out of me, and merge them with other media, maybe film or installations.
I think that would be really interesting.
But I’m not sure. I talked with Tim Barber about doing a film, but we’ll see.
Films just cost so much more money to make.
I have trouble with long productions. I don’t like when there are too many people involved. I just like to go out and photograph something, or photograph my own body, which is what I’m going to do here.
artwork from HESTER SERIES