Born in Sweden in 1972, photographer Jenny Rova now lives and works in Zurich. On display at the Lianzhou Foto Festival is her series Älskling, a self-portrait made up of photos of her taken by her successive lovers from the time she was 19 all the way to the age of 45. An approach that might come across as megalomaniacal at first, but that actually reveals infinite tenderness.
Intimacy as the raw material
Jenny Rova uses intimacy as her raw material and her private life as a boundless realm for exploration: exhibiting letters and emails she never had the courage to send; stalking an ex on Facebook; taking photos in which he’s posing with his new girlfriend and replacing the woman’s face with her own. Borderline behavior that is both disturbing and fascinating.
With Älskling, which means “darling” in Swedish, the photographer has found a new way to study her own life. While poring over some old photos, she came across pictures her ex had taken of her. She was moved by the sight of them and began thinking about the way “we construct part of our identity through the gaze of others. A gaze that evaluates, selects, judges,” she says.
A self-portrait of her by proxy from the age of 19 to the age of 45
Jenny Rova then went in search of her past life. For six months, she looked up her exes, contacted them, and collected the photos they sent her. “It was detective work, trying to find all my exes. It was both interesting and demanding,” the photographer confesses. Some responded, while others were impossible to find. Some didn’t want to be involved, while others found all their negatives and handed them to her no questions asked.
The final tally: fifty-five photos taken by nine different authors, in which we watch Jenny Rova’s life unfold. From the 19-year-old blonde who took off on a sailboat with her lover in the summer of 1991 to the glowing woman in her husband’s gaze the year she was 45. The series was also published as a book, taking on the form of “a strange and gentle reunion with the images of my past, which, for the most part, I had forgotten about.”
The terrible subjectivity of her memories
Only the artist and her lovers know what good times or drama hide behind each image. This relationship between intimacy and public exposure is also something Jenny Rova wanted to explore. “To see what happens when you move images from a very private realm to a published book or the wall of an exhibition,” she says.
When asked to divulge the secret behind one of the photos, without hesitation she picks this photo taken in Prague, about which her ex-lover revealed a terrible secret to her. “We had fought all night. He had been violent with me. I had completely forgotten or repressed that violence. But he still suffers over it, and is still ashamed of what happened.”
By Charlotte Jean
LIANZHOU FOTO FESTIVAL, A Chance for the Unpredictable
November 29, 2019 – January 3, 2020
Lianzhou, Guangdong, Chine