These are images from across Jacob Aue Sobol’s life as a photographer — from 2000 to 2017. They represent a search for love and human connection, often in harsh conditions. A photography of pathos.
The photographs are very simple. They just reflect who Jacob is: a person with a strong desire to take risks, to take part in life, and — more than anything else — to go beneath the surface of the people in front of him. It’s not more complicated than that. Everything else resides in the warmth of the communion frozen by the camera, which is not treated as a means to an end but as an end in itself. To ask more questions, or to write much more than that, misses the point.
With and Without You encompasses personal documentary work, virtuosic street photographs, and no-frills portraiture — that most spiritual side of photography. The photographs come from places as disparate as Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Yakutsk, Siberia; and the mountains of rural Guatemala. But they don’t dwell on any particular place as such — just on people as individuals with their own theaters of feelings. For Jacob exists in a long tradition of humanist photographers who have sought to explore the depths and universality of emotion without special regard for culture or creed. What he brings to the table is his fearlessness, deep sensuality, and keen eye for the underbelly of a society.
The visual through-line is the rich, almost rapturous sense of texture and the overt and playful physicality of the composition, which comes from the pocket cameras he prefers to use. “Photograph like a drunk man plays the piano,” Jacob often says, drawing from his time in Tokyo. He means to photograph with a loose wrist, to photograph with your intuition and heart: the surrendered moment, those moments when we don’t even consider the camera in our hands and we take pictures like we breathe the air.
Since making his earliest images in Greenland Jacob has had a remarkably consistent approach to photography. In conversation, too, he turns most often to his time as a hunter there, where he composed his book Sabine about his then-girlfriend. “After all, it is the best time of one’s life, the first period of falling in love, when with every meeting, every glance, one brings home something new to rejoice over,” Søren Kierkegaard said. These images are an effort to capture that state of being, those meetings and glances when we feel most alive and connected to the person in front us, when that feeling builds an entire world and we feel our search has finally ended.
Jacob amassed 400,000 photos over the last 18 years. He retired from photography this spring and now works as a fisherman on a remote island in southern Denmark, building the Brothas Centre for Fishing and Photography inside his grandfather’s old home by the sea.