tonje thilesen’s candid utopia

Photographer and artist Tonje Thilesen’s imagination is more likely to run wild to the sounds of Frank Ocean or Portishead than through an image of the sun setting over Machu Picchu.

As a teenager, Tonje developed a deep interest in Entomology and soon spent hours trying to photograph insects in the forests, streams and lakes that flow throughout her native hometown of Oslo, home not only to several areas of outstanding beauty but also a famously hardcore punk scene that she found equally inspiring. From squat parties to Berlin-based music blogs, her interest in discovering underground music scenes across the world has led her to take photographs from Southern Iceland to the futuristic city of Arcosanti that resides in Arizona’s high desert and everywhere in between.

Andermatt, Switzerland
Andermatt, Switzerland

How did your love of bugs lead to you initially picking up a camera?

I spent a lot of time out in nature as a kid, in forests and mountain hills where I grew up in Norway and I became deeply interested in photographing insects, finding symmetry in the macroscopic and the combinations of colours we aren’t able to see with the human eye. Shooting insects was a rewarding challenge. Also, I’m straight up just fascinated with them, always have been, maybe because they’re so alien-like. 

Your images all have a very soft, other-worldly vibe to them. Do you consciously work towards a certain aesthetic or is that not important?

I try not to think too much about it, nor do I care much for photography [laughs]. It’s more like an obsessive hobby that turned into a profession. It allows me to remember events, maybe to prove to myself that they actually happened. In a way I feel like a memory isn’t ‘real’ or ‘worthy’ if it isn’t captured. I don’t think that there is such thing as a recipe for a perfect picture, just happy accidents, great reflexes, and above all, good intuition. 

Your work has taken you all over the world from Arizona to Vietnam and most places in between. Is there a landscape you favor most of all?

The Northern Norwegian landscape is very dear to me because my family is from there. Throughout the past three years, I’ve traveled to Arcosanti every spring, a futuristic city residing in Arizona’s high desert. It was built in the 1970s by the Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri, who also coined the term ‘arcology’ – Arcosanti was built as a protest to urbanization, with the intent of becoming completely sustainable. My friends LA based band Hundred Waters decided to arrange a non-profit, DIY music festival in Arcosanti’s premises named FORM. Since 2013, the band have invited musicians to play at FORM, and made the event free to attend for a limited number of people in order to respect the residents of Arcosanti. It’s such a beautiful and important little thing, especially in light of the deeply corporate direction that most music festivals have taken throughout the past years. 

Nicole Miglis of Hundred Waters
Nicole Miglis of Hundred Waters
 Arcosanti, Arizona
Arcosanti, Arizona
Northern Tuscany, Italy
Northern Tuscany, Italy
Josephine Pearl Lee in Arcosanti
Josephine Pearl Lee in Arcosanti
Sana Nasir in Karachi, Pakistan
Sana Nasir in Karachi, Pakistan
Steigen, Norway
Steigen, Norway
Rui in Wedding, Berlin
Rui in Wedding, Berlin

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