JÓN PÁll VILHELMSSON
Between Art and a Hard Place
By: Filip Svensson | March 11, 2022
It’s a tricky thing, art. For it to happen. And for it not to happen. It’s like some art is just ment to push through, like magma through the crust of the Earth. Or at least this is the feeling I get when I talk to the icelandic photographer Jón Páll Vilhelmsson.
That, and that he doesn’t really like to talk about it.
– ’I have no words, how could that be?’ I ask Jón when he tells me that his examination exhibition at Brooks Institute of Photography was censored.
– ’America is such a conservative community on the outside, and that school was not an art school, but for commercial photography. And it was the official policy of the school to not condone nude photography, nothing naked, nothing risky.
One was showing his pregnant wife. As innocent and beautiful as you could imagine. I had artistic nudes, nothing that would stir anything up. We were three students showing nudes. And then the third guy had a journalistic story about BDSM prostitutes, very extreme sexual imagery. That’s the one that rocked the boat.
And that’s art, and it was defined that this is not an art school. There are a lot of art schools and they looked down on it, the arty-farty stuff. And of course we are talking about photography as art. It’s a strange situation with two sides of the same coin. You have the artist doing commercial work to make a living, and that’s ”bad”. And then he’s exhibiting art and nobody’s buying, and he is starving, and that’s ”good.” And these are two parallell worlds that don’t exist in the same time and space.’
– ’It’s like it’s impossible to win?’
– ’We read about exceptions in magazines and stuff, and those are the 0,1% who make it. My career is not all bad and my art is now landscape photography, and at one point I even had a private gallery on the main shopping street in Reykjavik. I ran that for 1,5 years selling fine art landscape photography to almost all continents. It was successful, but not successful enough. But that was ten years ago, and now I’m making a living as a commercial artist and photographer. And I’m always trying to get my art out as well. Can I show you my studio?’ >>