Monday, April 30, 2007

Through a Lens Darkly: The Norwegian Black Metal Photography of Peter Beste


Brooklyn-based photographer Peter Beste has been gaining international attention with his recent documentation of Norwegian Black Metal. Several years ago he embarked on his first pilgrimage to Norway where he quickly networked among some of the most well-known of Scandinavia's violently anti-Christian artists. More trips followed and soon Beste's unmistakable and powerful imagery captured the imaginations of both initiated metal fans and the fine art world alike. In 2005 Gallery Speak For in Tokyo, Japan presented an exhibit of Beste's prints and a beautifully assembled (and ridiculously packaged) hardbound book was published to coincide with the event. Among the most stunning of this collection are Beste's portraits of Gaahl, Gorgoroth's disturbingly sincere Satanic frontman. Possibly Norway's most photogenic convicted sadist, Gaahl's angular bone structure and penetrating steel-blue eyes are striking in any light, but Beste's intimate photos capture something brooding and disorienting just beneath the slashes of angry corspse paint. Another print features Hoeste of Taake posing with a jera rune, the harvest rune, carved into his pale bicept. The rune takes on an especially grim connotation as it is juxtaposed with a medieval morning star draped over his shoulder. Then there is the tragic shot of Nattefrost of Carpathian Forest laying cross-eyed drunk in a shower stall clutching a bottle and covered in his own shit. There are plenty of spikes and inverted crosses as well as the obligatory and masterfully documented fire-breathing, bloodletting, pigs heads, and live gig shots. But the most potent and beautiful of Beste's photos are instilled with an unguarded introspection and deep calm. Such as his shot of Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto staring into the camera, his face obscured by the sun illuminating through tree limbs in the background. Similarly moving is the photo of Emperor's Samoth, whose musical endeavors were briefly interrupted during the mid 90's when he was imprisoned on charges of church arson, standing near his home in Kongsberg with his daughter running toward him through the tall grass. Soft-spoken and polite, Peter Beste graced Portland recently with an exhibit of his work at the Pearl District's Sugar Gallery...

Dennis Dread: Peter, tell me how you set about taking this series of photos. Were your trips to Norway carefully planned with clear itineraries or was there some spontaneity involved in your introductions with people and setting up shoots?

Peter Beste: I started with an interest in black metal, researched a lot, met a few of the bands in the US, and then planned a 5 week trip to Norway. I spent my time traveling to the relevant cities, getting to know people and photographing those who wanted to participate. As people became familiar with my work, it became easier for me to get who I needed.

Did you receive any grants for this project? How did you finance your visits to Norway?

I saved up money and paid for my first few trips myself

There's a funny moment in the film 'Heavy Metal: a Headbanger's Journey' when the film makers arrive in Norway and tell customs that they are making a documentary about Norwegian music. The elderly gentleman behind the counter immediately says, "Black Metal?" What was the reaction among mainstream Norwegians when they learned of your project?

Yes. Almost every Norwegian citizen knows about black metal because of the sensational media coverage its received in the last 15 years. Of course, most of these people see little or no merit to black metal, so I'm constantly finding myself explaining its legitimacy.

As a photographer, what are your interests in black metal?

Besides musically, I'm very interested in the visual and spiritual sides of black metal. I try to show that in my photos.

It seems to me that Scandinavians, as a whole, are relatively well educated and enjoy a very high quality of life with religion not being of particular importance. Having spent some intimate time with many of the most influential of these musicians, do you have any insight into why such a violent scene emerged from this seemingly quiet and conservative society?

That's the number one question I asked myself going into this. There are of course many different ideas, but my opinion is that the Church and State are practically one and the same in Norway, so when rebelling against the system, much of that anger is reflected at the Church. Of course there isn't much to rebel against in such a well to do country. They have it pretty easy over there. You can make $35,000/yr on welfare, very few people are living in poverty, the education levels are extremely high, and there is little crime.

Many of your photos have an unexpected calm and introspective quality. Honestly I expected more bloodshed and violence. Any comments?

I try not to overly sensationalize my subjects, although of course sometimes I take some over the top photos. As I mentioned earlier, I'm very much interested in the nature and spiritual side of black metal, which is probably why there is a calm or reflective element to some of the photographs. I place the subjects in their own environment (often times nature) and let the results come naturally.


How seriously did your subjects take their beliefs? I'm particularly interested in how well versed people seemed regarding their own ethnicity in terms of Odinism. My friends from Sweden tell me that Viking culture in Sweden is often regarded as goofy kitsch. They've compared it to how Americans treat American Indian culture as little more than a tourist attraction. Was this the case among bands like Enslaved in Norway?

They take their beliefs very seriously. I don't know how the common citizen sees it in Norway, but I would say that in their defense, the Christians are the ones who recorded the Pagan religions, and in the process made it overly kitschy and more like a myth rather than what it really was for people back then. Bands like Enslaved are representing their heritage that they still feel a close connection to.

I noticed in one photo you're wearing a Thor's Hammer around your neck. Is that a deliberate nod to your own ancestry? Do you have any interest in pre-Christian Norse culture?

That was merely a souvenir. I am of German/Irish descent, but I have a great respect for Scandinavian culture.

As an illustrator with admittedly little knowledge or perspective about photography, I'm wondering how you pick your favorite photos from what must be hundreds or thousands of shots? What do you look for in a great photo?

That is difficult to sum up in words. Basically, I choose an image that speaks to me. Composition and light are important, but it's the mood and emotion that really does it for me.

Do you consider yourself a technical photographer or are you more interested in capturing and creating moods and feelings?

I do no consider myself a technical photographer. Almost all of the photos I've taken up until now are taken with simple cameras with all natural light. That is how I like to work. The less technical stuff to worry about, the more connection I can have with my subject.


Do you feel there is any real anti-Christian "movement" or cohesive worldview among the musicians you met, or is your impression that this is just guys in bands making music?

I wouldn't call black metal a movement because everyone has their own ideas and no one is unified in fighting for something. Of course the common denominator is an anti-Christian attitude, but that shows itself in a variety of ways. When I first went over there, I expected to see a more uniform set of beliefs, but I found the opposite.

Your photos of Gaahl of Gorgoroth are among the most powerful in your recent exhibit. I read about your plans to make a documentary short film about him. How is that coming along?

The first version of it is finished. I produced a short documentary about Gaahl for VBS. It is divided up into 5 episodes, and you can see it at www.vbs.tv - a solid 30 minute version will be released on a VICE DVD this summer.
You have lots of interests beyond metal so I'm wondering if you had a chance to explore other facets of Norwegian youth culture like, say, underground punk or graffiti scenes?

All of my energy in Norway is dedicated to black metal, so I haven't explored many subcultures, but I'm interested in Russ, though a photographer named Jorn Tomter already did a photo essay on it.

You've taken many photos of black American rappers who also often sing about violence. Do you see any similarities between these very distinct genres? It has been said that if most black metal musicians were dropped into a typical housing project here in the States they wouldn't seem so brutal. Any thoughts?

Some of the guys I photograph in the Houston ghettos are much more intimidating and ultimately much more dangerous than the black metal guys. Luckily, I haven't had any real problems because I always have the right people with me when I go to these places, and ultimately, they like to be photographed, so it works out for everyone. There are some underlying similarities between the Houston rappers and the Norwegian black metallers. In both societies, these artists are viewed as villains. Black metal guys are portrayed as church burning Satanists, so therefore the common citizen is scared of them. We all know that in America commercial gangster rappers have a similar wrap, though they're publicized for violent or sexist lyrical content (and like black metal, sometimes violent acts themselves).


I've seen on your website a photo of you posed between two black men dressed in what appears to be Blood & Crips colors. What's up with that photo? Is that part of another project?

I was doing a shoot for an album called 'The Blood and the Crip' by two famous Houston rappers, Z-RO and Point Blank. That photo was just an out take with me in between - For my own amusement, I guess.

There's an element of cross-cultural voyeurism in some of your work, including the black metal photos. I am reminded of Hunter Thompson's journalistic exploration of the Hell's Angels which resulted in death threats from bikers. Were you ever concerned about how your work might be perceived by fans of the music or the bands themselves?

Yes I am very conscious of that, and I'm very careful to make sure everyone is represented correctly and no one is exploited. This can be very tricky at times because everyone has a different idea of what they deserve or how they should be represented. The real test of this is when my book comes out.

The Japanese hardcover collection of your 'Norwegian Black Metal' photos is very impressive but it begs the question: will your book be released in a more affordable format here in the States? I can already see it sitting on every coffee table in America...

Definitely. The reason the Japanese book is so expensive is because it's so limited and incredibly costly for me to get copies. I am in the process of finalizing a deal that will release my book in the States & Europe for a much more reasonable price! The tentative release date is February 2008.

One complaint I have with the book is that your interview excerpts from the gallery exhibit were not included. Those interviews were great and leant a certain depth to the subject matter beyond the purely aesthetic. Were the excerpts omitted to allow the photos to speak for themselves?

The Japanese publisher wanted only photos. That book was meant to be a work in progress that was only available in Japan. The definitive book will have loads more content (photos, writings, etc) and will be 2 or 3 times as thick.

Do you have any particular political stance or opinions that might come through in your photography?

No.

How do you see your 'Norwegian Black Metal' project fitting in with your broader body of work?

My overall body of work is still relatively small, but I plan to do similar photographic explorations in the future.


All photos copyright Peter Beste and appear with kind permission.
Walpurgisnacht, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

ANTICHRIST VANGUARDS


I'm hitting the road for 5 dates of the Antichrist Vanguards East Coast Tour in May! This leg of the tour consists of WATAIN, NACHTMYSTIUM & ANGELCORPSE. I'll be at the following shows so look for me at the Ajna Offensive merch table. Buy me drinks...

5/10 ~ Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle (w/ CIANIDE & KOMMANDANT!)
5/11 ~ Cleveland, OH - Peabody’s (w/ CELTIC FROST!)
5/12 ~ Philadelphia, PA - The Northstar
5/13 ~ Cambridge, MA - Middle East
5/14 ~ New York, NY - BB King’s

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

KA-WHUMP!

A magazine called KA-WHUMP! "News and Reviews From the Underground Press" arrived in the mail this morning. There was no letter enclosed and I wasn't sure why I had received this unexpected gift until I flipped through and found a review of Destroying Angels #5. This particular issue of Destroying Angels is several years old but I purposefully design my zine to have a long shelf life and the reviewer really seems to get what it's all about. The underground needs more of this kind of comraderie and support. Here's the review written by editor Robert Sumner:

"Remember back in the 80's when Heavy Metal gave way to Death Metal and the stoners in school all professed their love for Satan and decided to start their own bands that would meet every Friday night to drink, make music and get high...No? Well, if you do, then DESTROYING ANGELS is right up your alley. Editor/Publisher Dennis Dread makes us all feel 16 again but talks to us like adults in this well produced and extensively researched zine. To lump it in the category of punkzine is almost an insult. Although DA has the feel of one of the early punkzines, the layouts, articles and artwork are so far advanced, that it goes into a category all its own. Dennis is himself an incredible artist whose talents with a ballpoint (yes...BALLPOINT) pen are like nothing I've ever seen before, and his love for the death metal genre shines through in every page. In #5, Dennis has a great tribute to another overtly talented man..."Mad" Marc Rude, who passed away in 2002 and left quite a legacy in he world of underground art. Dennis includes tales of those who knew Rude as well as his anticipated meeting with Rude which was cancelled due to Rude's death. Among other articles in this issue is an interview with the infamous Mike Diana, who tells from his own words what happened when he went to trial and was convicted of drawing the underground comic Boiled Angel. Diana also supplies lots of his disgusting artwork including his autobiographical strip of when he first saw G.G. Allin in concert. I'm sorry that I'm so behind on getting recent issues of this zine because it definitely is a one of a kind. Dread is up to #8 already and hopefully I'll be getting a copy soon to review in an upcoming KW. Production is creative, cutting edge and VERY well done. MATURE READERS"
KA-WHUMP!
c/o Robert L. Sumner
PO Box 1523
Depoe Bay, Oregon
97341
$3.50

Let's review: I make you feel 16 again, but I talk to you like an adult.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fast as a shark...and twice as mean!


Here's a glimpse at my new drawing for Denmark speedthrashers Victimizer! This is a completely raw untouched scan. You like metal? Here's a zombie holding the head of jesus, a great white shark, barbwire, and a pentagram stormtrooper! This should be out by June on Hell's Headbangers records. THRASH or DIE!!!!