An interview with Øyvind Jonas Jellestad
by Cori Amato Hartwig
In the summer of 2017, a practically newborn Crooked Teeth Literary Magazine received an email from an artist in Bergen, Norway, a town sitting just over five-thousand miles away from our little literary magazine based out of San Francisco, California. Shocked at our geographic reach and the power of the Internet, I clicked the email and opened the attached eBook: Øyvind Jonas Jellestad’s first book, When The Crowd Cries, a collection of his photography of the model AnneGrethe Fuller. Immediately, I was struck by the photographs in the book—struck not only by their form, the use of line and color, but by Øyvind’s vision, AnneGrethe, and the unspoken stories behind the photographs themselves. I began to communicate with Øyvind for background on the book in order to write a book review for the first issue of Crooked Teeth, and I quickly realized that the entirety of Øyvind’s life has been shaped by the same level of integrity and fearlessness displayed so vividly in his photography.
After his birth in 1953 in the center of Bergen, Norway, Øyvind Jonas Jellestad and his family soon moved to the first suburb of Bergen. The town itself was growing, with new homes being built all around and young families moving in. Growing up in the developing suburbs was an adventure; a young Øyvind and the other children would take materials from the surrounding construction sites and build their own “cottages,” living out their dreams in the outskirts of Bergen surrounded by the mountains. Øyvind reflects back on his “happy childhood, wondering how he survived all of those imaginative actions.”
Øyvind’s father, a chief executive at one of the oldest publishing companies in Norway, John Griegs Boktrykkeri, exposed Øyvind to the industry at an early age, around ten years old. He can vividly recall the distinct smells of the printery—ink, paper, and solvents. Exposure to the solvents and inhalation of chemicals during his time in printeries and shipyards would eventually lead Øyvind to his early retirement in 2004 due to health problems. Despite this, Øyvind remains extremely active in doing a wide range of activities as he did during his multitude of careers, including printing, publishing, nightclub and music promotion, work in the shipyards, cooking, and photography.
Although many assumed that Øyvind would follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in the graphic industry, his interests differed. An avid reader from a young age, Øyvind gravitated to politics after reading The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. At fourteen years old, he became a member of the Norwegian Labor Youth Party (AUF), and later was elected as a leader. He was also an active in the anti-war movement during Vietnam. His political interests and involvement were all-consuming at this time, so when he attended schooling per his parents’ requests, he noticed that he “didn’t know what the other students were doing.” This led him to quit attending school.
Øyvind then worked at other places and applied to apprentice at the largest printing company in Bergen. During his apprenticeships at the printeries during summertimes, he met a peer who was immersed in his interest in photography. This sparked Øyvind’s own passion for photography—he bought his first SLR-camera and was soon “addicted” to the art. He worked as a freelance photographer from the beginning of 1977 until 1985. He continues photography now, solely shooting food, alongside some photographs of Bergen for personal use. Øyvind’s interest in photography and food collide—when he cooks, the kitchen morphs into a studio, Øyvind noting that even “sometimes the kitchen looks more like a studio than a place for cooking.” When he cooks for his wife and children, they expect a shoot of the food before the meal can begin.
Back in 1977, Øyvind quit his job as a lithographic printer and had his own studio on the wharf in Bergen, a small place with a little printery that he used to print photographs, brochures, and promotional materials for his freelance photography and his ex-wife’s career in fashion design. Øyvind remembers the studio: “many hundred years old, stinking of dried fish, but the atmosphere was unique.” Throughout his career as a freelance photographer, Øyvind preferred to shoot indoors “where he could control everything.” His level of intention and artistic deliberation characterizes his work, especially clear in his photographs of the late model, AnneGrethe Fuller.
Øyvind’s first photography book, When The Crowd Cries, was published through Øyvind’s independent online publishing company, CheapChip Publishing, in early 2017. The entire book visually documents several different shoots during the career of AnneGrethe Fuller, who Øyvind met in late 1977 through an acquaintance. Their artistic relationship was dynamic— Øyvind describes it as “rather unique,” and even believes that the cooperation between them during the years that he photographed her “changed the way he looked at photographs and even himself.” The book serves as a memorial and a time capsule, reflecting the provocative strides in fashion photography as seen in Vogue at the time. Inspired by the works of photographers David Bailey and Helmut Newton, Øyvind shot AnneGrethe in a similar fashion: in black and white with strong focus on line, contrast, and eroticism. When The Crowd Cries is available for digital download via iBooks (Apple) and Kindle (Amazon) through CheapChip Publishing.
Currently, Øyvind is working on a cookbook, which he says is “time-consuming, expensive, and fun.” His interest in food started from an early age, as his grandmother, a gifted cook, lived with his family when he was a child. She allowed a very young Øyvind to assist when she made the meals on the weekends, as she worked during the week. His father also enjoyed cooking, but maintained a philosophy somewhat contrary to the process of writing a cookbook: there were no recipes. This allowed for experimentation in food and the process of cooking, despite only cooking traditional Norwegian recipes. Now, Øyvind loves to experiment with traditional Norwegian food, incorporating different flavors, as he enjoys cooking and eating things that he has never tried before. Despite using Norwegian food as the base for his cooking, he ends up with a collision of flavors and traditions, including influences from Indian and Chinese cuisines, some of his favorite foods to cook and eat. In addition to the cookbook, Øyvind is currently compiling his old photography for his second photography book, The Man Outside the Window.
Even from my own limited interactions with Øyvind communicating via email during the process of reviewing his first book When The Crowd Cries, it was clear to me from the beginning that his commitment to his work makes him a perfect example of a true artist—someone who acts with clear intention and integrity throughout the process of both creating and promoting art. When I asked him what it means to be an artist, he replied: “Doing the things that I want to do.” Throughout Øyvind’s eclectic life and career, the desire to be free to do what he wants colors
each decision that he has made, carving a life that is quietly nonconformist, yet loudly individual and boldly uncensored.