A self-proclaimed “Managing Dictator”, Bjarke Ahlstrand’s multifaceted lifestyle makes him one of our current Renaissance Man of the Arts. His wide range of interests and ventures for business and his passions have made him establish One of Many. Part of his creative empire is One of Many Cameras, the auxiliary for his analogue and experimental routine located in the heart of Copenhagen. Get to know Bjarke’s many faces and his first impressions with the Babylon Kino and Fantôme Kino films through our exclusive interview.
Hey Bjarke, welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Could you introduce yourself to our community?
Hi folks, I’m Bjarke - a 44-year-old hedonist, entrepreneur, and “artist” living in Copenhagen. I guess I always had a creative drive as I started my first death metal band (Idiosyncrasy) in 1990 and the underground fanzine Nagual back in 1991 when things were truly analogue.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was headhunted by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation to host a national radio show, which I guess put an end to any sort of formal education on my behalf, and after that everything has been pretty much self-taught. I moved on to television and have produced quite a lot of documentaries, youth programs, and satire series for the last 20 years. Since that was always very “commercial” and mainstream I think I always needed something on the side, so since 1997, I have had the metal label Mighty Music which has released 400+ albums worldwide and is still active today.
Roughly seven years ago I was bored and decided to open a rock bar, Zeppelin, with a couple of friends, as well as a camera store, One Of Many Cameras, with my best friend. I guess I needed a nice place to hang out and drink beers and listen to music – which we do in both places, hahaha. 6 years ago I had my first book entitled “After” published, which consisted of 250+ post-coital portraits. These portraits were taken right after intercourse where I tried to capture what the French refer to as “la petite mort”. Every image was shot on a different medium/camera/lens so that was quite an effort, hehe.
Nowadays I’m married to a Canadian scientist/botanist and two years ago we published the book “Photosynthesis” together. You can say that I went from the bees to the flowers, as this one contains so-called camera flowers — installations of living plants in dead camera vessels. Oh, and yeah, I have two sons aged 21 and 16, a daughter who is almost 2 years old, and a suicidal black cat.
You wear many hats throughout the day – tell us, how did you become involved in so many creative projects? Is it the meaning behind the name One of Many?
That name has stuck with me since I was young and my production company has been called One Of Many since 1999. There have been many silly versions of it, including One Of Many Clothing Companies (that didn’t go well), One Of Many Records (we only did two vinyl releases under that moniker), One Of Many Books, One Of Many Beers (two successful brews so far), etc. but today the only active variants are One Of Many Cameras – and the mother company One Of Many Holding Companies.
We are fascinated by your Petzval tattoo! Where does this love for ancient photography equipment come from?
Digital sensors are sooo clean, crisp, and perfect, and a lot of images look the same since a lot of people use the same gear and multi-coated-aspherical-bla-bla lenses, but I prefer the look and rendering of vintage lenses, especially when it comes to shooting portraits, etc. We do a lot of rentals at OOMC and we have several vintage CINE-kits (Cooke, Nikon, Olympus, Hasselblad, Contax, Zeiss, etc.) which we rent out to production companies and independent filmmakers who are tired of the technically perfect and high contrast images coming from modern lenses.
I shoot a lot of film myself and love to shoot large format because it really forces me to slow down and focus. Nothing beats working with an 8x10 camera, and a Petzval lens. :-)
You own a camera store, One of Many Cameras, in the heart of Copenhagen. How are things going there? Have you noticed a change in demographics since you first opened the shop in 2014?
I have definitely seen that the prices have gone up since we started. A Hasselblad Xpan sells for twice the price today as it did when we opened. The same thing goes for other hyped cameras like the Contax point and shoots, Leica M6, etc. and of course we felt it when Fujifilm and Kodak decided to increase their prices by 25-40%. That, I’m not a fan of – I hope film photography can continue to be something everybody can afford and not only dentists, doctors, and bank consultants.
We have a mixture of professionals and first-timers coming into the store. I would say that the amount of first-timers who want to try out analogue is pretty much the same for the last 3-4 years, but in recent years we’ve seen an increase in professional photographers who normally mostly work with digital that also want to create an analogue output.
What is your best souvenir in One of Many Cameras?
Whenever I see people I don’t know wearing our merchandise it always makes me happy. We have done 20 or so t-shirt designs and those always sell out fast. We have people coming into the store just to purchase a t-shirt – I guess because we’re a little more rock ’n roll and dirty than the other photographic stores, hahaha. My favorite thing was at the festival Copenhell two years ago where I spotted 8 girls and guys wearing OOMC shirts while listening to loud metal music and drinking beers. That sort of made me feel like I was still the growling vocalist of a metal band, haha.
Your store is also the home of a 20x24 large-format camera that you built yourself. How often are you taking the Mammoth out for a shooting?
Not often enough to be honest. It demands two people to be operated properly and last time I shot it in my apartment we made a hole in the roof in the living room when we had to take the dark slide out. Also, it requires a minimum of 7.5 liters of chemistry in each process when we develop images… I shoot Ilford FP4 and Direct Positive Paper in it. But last year I traveled to Massachusetts, USA, to visit 20x24 Studios (owned by the old Polaroid executive who is holding on to the last of the original Polaroid 20x24 material) and got to shoot one of the original 20x24” cameras which was a fantastic experience. I have to admit the original camera is built a little better than mine.
I frequently work on my 8x10” cameras – I have a Sinar P2 at home and a Sinar Norma at my summerhouse. The corona-situation has given me time to get my wet plate chemistry up and running again, so I did a lot of wet plates this summer – which was nice, and dizzying…
Lately you took our newest low-iso films out for a spin. What did you think of the Fantôme and Babylon Kino films?
At first, I was skeptical. Did I really need ISO 8 and 13 films in a 35 mm film camera? I’m used to working with slow ISO materials (wet plate collodion, paper negatives, and Direct Positive Paper) so that didn’t bother me, I just didn’t know if I would see the “effect” fully on a small format like kleinbild 35 mm. But I think they are great – both of them, actually. The Babylon 13 has a very subtle rendering, very old school grain structure. I’m quite nerdy when it comes to this and my scans are done of a Hasselblad Flextight X1 scanner so I have inspected the grains carefully, haha. I shot that one on a Hasselblad Xpan and on a Leica M2. I especially liked the way the fast Leica M lenses performed on it. I shot a variety of vintage and modern lenses, and even the Leica 50 mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M Asph and Leica 75 mm f/1.2 Noctilux-M Asph worked very well with that film.
And then there’s the Fantôme. Wow. Crazy film. The blacks are really BLACK on that one. I do some record covers every now and then and I think it would be good to do something with this film. And if you could release it in 120 film that would be even greater!
Are you currently working on any personal photography projects?
Yes. I’m working on a project called “Negative Women” which I hope will see the light of day when the corona situation hopefully gets better. Right now it doesn’t make any sense to do exhibitions etc. that no one can attend.
Lastly, let us express how much we love your book “Photosynthesis Fifty Camera Flowers” — and the idea of giving a new life to defective cameras! Any tips for photographers looking to get into gardening?
Marry a botanist, it makes life greener. ;-)