This Friday we stand where the land meets the sea. Water is our lifeblood: our bodies, our industries, and our cities are sustained by it. However, while the sea is calming and fecund, it can also be cruel. Stockholm-based photographer Lotta Törnroth (born in Solna, Sweden, 1981), documents the emotions surrounding mankind’s relationship to the ocean. Her series’ composedly consider the emotions brought on by the uncertainty, the loss, and the drama of the water’s danger. While there is a potent darkness to her work, there is also lightness, stillness, hope, and beauty. In the fading but strong light of the North, Törnroth turns her camera onto the nebulous emotions of past tragedies and present fears. By adding a haziness and romanticizing elements to her work, she uncomplicates the relationship we have with vast bodies of water and their innate power. Across time, countries, and context, each story of loss, pain, or possibility becomes intertwined. Whether remembering a past tragedy off the coast of Sweden in 1808, Coney Island in 2012, South Korea in 2014, or from a fictional novel, the narratives all speak to a larger human relationship with water. With her work, Törnroth is the lighthouse, shedding light on those who waited for a sailor who was never to return, people who have recently lost their loved ones, or the individuals who currently live in fear of the ocean’s power.
Apart From the Sea That Always Hits the Shore (Förutom havet som alltid slår mot stränderna) (2014) and To Wait For the Inevitable: Narratives From the Sea (Att vänta på det oundvikliga: berättelser från havet) are both inspired by the sinking of the Fru Margaretha. The Swedish ship, allowed to sail despite its alarmingly deteriorated state, capsized during a storm, killing approximately one hundred people. Fishermen retrieved the bodies that washed up on shore of the nearby island of Limön for days afterwards. In her written description, Törnroth connects the powerlessness felt by the Swedish fisherman to the elderly inhabitants forced to stay inside the tall apartment buildings on the beach at Coney Island—where the image in Apart From the Sea was taken—during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The inhabitants of both coastal sites share a fear of the sea.
Our awareness of the power of the sea is the focus of To Wait for the Inevitable: Narratives From the Sea (2013-2014). The narrative of this series, which takes the form of photographs, texts, and sculpture, concerns the apprehension felt about the impressive strength of the ocean and the inevitability of disaster. After visiting the island Limön, where the aforementioned Fru Margaretha sunk in 1808, Törnroth travelled to shipwreck sites along the coasts of Sweden and Finland. The photographs of these locations are paired with pages from books where all the words but those that reference the ocean have been blacked out. A picture of a faulty lighthouse is also included. The accompanying artist book with photographs, three personal essays, and a foreword by Jenny Maria Nilsson was published in Swedish and English by Blackbook Publications in 2014.
Her recent project, Three Sisters & Three Sisters Lights (Tre systrar & Tre systrars ljus) (2015), references the Three Sisters of Nauset lighthouses in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The now defunct lighthouses saw thousands of shipwrecks during their lifetime. Three Sisters honors the lighthouses and those who lost their lives despite their light. This series was also partly inspired by human anxiety about death’s inevitability as manifested in stories. Many tales, prompted by other’s misfortunes, are methods used to cope with this anxiety and fear.
For her series Imaginary Islands (from the Atlantic Ocean to the Yellow Sea) (Imaginära öar (från Atlanten till Gula havet)) (2015), Törnroth photographed the melting process of frozen seawater over a period of three hours. These photographs are accompanied by eleven paintings on paper made with the melted salt water mixed with gouache. The resulting paintings, which resemble islands viewed from above, remind Törnroth of Yves Klein’s 1957 repainting of a globe with his signature blue. On the globe, the blue paint flooded away the physical boundaries between countries and between land and water. The making of a “terra incognita” or unexplored space (that Rebecca Solnit has described in response to Klein’s work) can also be applied to the uncertain moment of chance that occurred when Törnroth took these photographs and dissolved the salt water mixture onto paper.
She recently contributed to A Book About A Picture (En bok om en bild) (Rojal Förlag, 2015), an experimental collaborative publication initiated by artist duo Helga Härenstam & Olle Essvik. Ranging from poets to photographers, each participant produced a work inspired by an (undisclosed) image presented to them by Härenstam and Essvik. The series I am going to tell you that the dream is more important than reality (Jag ska berätta att drömmen är viktigare än verkligheten) (2011-2013) was self-published as an artist’s book in collaboration with Johanna Sevholt in 2013.
While finishing To Wait For the Inevitable: Narratives From the Sea in 2014, the tragic capsizing of the MV Sewal off the coast of South Korea occurred. Subsequently, Törnroth’s interest in catastrophes led her to travel to South Korea in 2015. She will be returning in April 2016 to continue working on the developing project.
Törnroth graduated with her BFA from the School of Photography at Gothenburg University (2012) and with her MFA from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University (2014). In 2014-2015, she participated in the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. She has received grants and awards from the Helge Ax:son Johnsons Foundation (2015), the Swedish Authors’ Fund (2015), the Hasselblad Foundation (2014), and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland (2014).
Her most recent solo exhibitions have included “…two have been washed away and the third soon to be engulfed,” rummet, Fotogalleriet [format], Malmö (2015), “Apart From the Sea That Always Hits the Shore,” Skala 1:1, Atalante, Gothenburg (2014-2015), “To Wait For the Inevitable: Narratives From the Sea,” Gallery Korjaamo, Helsinki (2014), and “these story’s began in reality but ended in fiction,” Gallery Monitor, Gothenburg (2010).
Selected recent group exhibitions include “Helsinki-Sur-Mer,” Institut Finlandais, Paris (2015) and “The PhotoBook Exhibition,” Athens Photo Festival, Greece (2015). “To Wait For the Inevitable: Narratives From the Sea,” has been exhibited at Pickford’s House, FORMAT15: EVIDENCE, Photo Festival, Derby, UK (2015), ISCP Open Studios, New York (2014), in “Sidor”, Center for Photography, Stockholm (2014), Landskrona Museum, Landskrona Photo Festival, Landskrona (2014), New Nordic Photography, Hasselblad Center, Gothenburg (2014), and Master of Arts 2014, Eteläesplanadi 22, Helsinki (2014). You can find her online at lottatornroth.com and lottatornroth.tumblr.com.