Kåre Kivijärvi (1938-1991) was a complicated man full of contradictions. He began as a photojournalist, and later called himself a romanticist. When he showed new works in his last exhibition during his lifetime, he described them as neorealistic. Shortly before his death he spoke of these pictures as an expression of a „monumental melancholy“. This corresponds to his journey from the young to the mature man, the teenager who, in the 1950s, explored the boundaries outside the photo-clubs and photo juries and believed that he was special. He felt confirmed in this when in 1959 he met Otto Steinert in Saarbrücken, and later during his studies at the Essen Folkwangschule für Gestaltung became one of Steinert‘s favourite pupils. Kivijärvi‘s versatile photographic experience gave him an advantage as a craftsman, and he did very well in photo school. He spent his time perfecting his vision: the individual, the subjective, through his own eye. This is what Steinert encouraged in his students; his theory of Subjektive Fotografie was about just this methodical search for one‘s own, individual photographic expression.
Kivijärvis Black-and-white shots obtain their aesthetic and emotional power from radical image crops, viewing angles and the enhancing of the light / dark contrasts. His almost abstract nature and landscape images show an almost painterly quality, and in his photojournalist reports each picture is a new open-ended story.
The 1960s are Kivijärvis‘s great creative period in which he took most of his photographs. He identified himself with his role as a photojournalist and was extroverted in his work and courageous as well as diverse in his choice of subjects. When he exhibited his photographs, he was very critical and precise in the selection. It was out of the question for him to show photographs that work well in a particular context or as a group, but cannot stand alone as individual works. At the end of his life, only about one hundred of his own works pass his artistic standards.
Kåre Kivijärvi was an artist from the north, from the northernmost north: „I do not consider myself as a North Norwegian in general but rather as a product of Finnmark, a region which is different from the south of Norway in terms of landscape, environment and social conditions. „Many of his pictures show these landscapes and arctic or remote parts of the world such as Greenland, Finland, Afghanistan and Nepal. He is fascinated by places „where man should not live, but we still do!“ Kivijärvi describes himself as a „barbarian“ or „Eskimo“ and claims that the people in the north are the descendants of the Siberian warlord Genghis Khan. He used great words and myths to illustrate his point of view, and it seems clear that his so-called „landscape of the soul“ was tied to this inhospitable corner of the world.
Kåre Kivijärvi’s breakthrough in Norway came in 1971 when he was selected as the first photographer to participate in Statens Høstutstilling, the State-sponsored art exhibition held every autumn in Oslo. Today, he is regarded as a pioneer in Norwegian photography. Kivijärvi used the term “the moment of truth” to describe the moment he took a picture. Kivijärvi was born in Hammerfest and always professed a connection to the ethnic heritage of the Kven and to Finland. After working as a photographer‘s apprentice in Finnmark Dagblad, he was in 1959 accepted at Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in Essen, Germany, where he studied with Otto Steinert.
After having served in the army with the Norwegian air force photography service, he accepted a position as freelance photographer for Helsingin Sanomat‘s weekly newsmagazine Viikkosanomat, which brought him on assignment to Greenland, the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, India, and Nepal. It can be said that he contributed to establish photography as a distinct art form in Norway. Kivijärvi‘s photographic style is noted for its stark, sparse imagery. His photo essay on Laestadians in northern Norway in 1962 is a noted example of this style, as are his depiction of desolate landscapes and harsh climates.
Currently the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (HOK) in Oslo is presenting the extensive exhibition Kåre Kivijärvi – Artist with a Camera . It contains a number of key works by Kivijärvi which, along with works on loan from The Museum of Reconstruction in Hammerfest and Norway’s Sami Parliament, have been brought together to show the full breadth of his oeuvre
We would like to thank the Birgit Lie and Ole Rysstad Collection as well as Kristin Aasbø (Author of „ Kåre Kivijärvi -
Fotografier 1996 - 1991“, 2011, Forlaget Press, Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo, 239 pages) for their kind support.