In the Alley


A decade as an alley photographer

 

I am Lars Åke Andersen, and I have photographed an alley for ten years. I live in the northern arctic sphere of the worlds most beautiful country, where mountain peaks, long fjords and exceptional nature surrounds small cities and villages. These areas bring opportunities to capture breathtaking pictures of the northern light, the midnight sun, of arriving boats and sea foam hitting the coastal rocks.

I, however, chose to photograph in a dark alley known as «Lehne-småttet, which is a narrow passageway in the city of Tromsø.

Every year for a decade I have photographed here, in or close by the alley. I think the alley is the most urban feature in Tromsø; it is obscure, dark and bizarrely beautiful. There’s graffiti on the walls, just as it was painted in the 1980s, there’s layer upon layer with old posters and there’re people hurrying from one street to the other. People don’t stop for a break in the Lehne-alley. It is tight and narrow. Maybe 1,5 meter wide. Still, there are two groups of people who stops here; the first group is the ones putting up posters advertising cultural happenings. The second group is those who urinates on a late Saturday night and don’t care to find a more appropriate place for doing so. Other than that, people pass through in haste.

It is not an easy task to photograph here. An adult man can’t stay in the alley before someone reacts. Every visit has been short. This is not a life task, but as time went on I noticed that I had visited the alley every year. With time I tried to do it systematically, photographing on Labour Day, the yearly Marathon race, a couple of times every summer and winter. All of a sudden a decade had passed. The last time were in the autumn of 2014. Nowadays, people have raised awareness when it comes to photographers, and they don’t see the difference of someone who captures either documentary pictures or art photos. People believe they have the right to move freely in public places.

There is a long tradition for street photography, almost dating back to the beginning of the photograph. Street photography is a genre that doesn’t mean that you capture the street, but more so the people using it, of small and big movements. To an extent, it captures the spirit of the time. It started in Paris when the people of the 1800s got more free time. The establishment of street cafes, life surrounding the market booths and the people who promenaded – they promenaded the streets and observed life. People had more spare time. The development of the camera made it possible to capture this life. It is people in the cities or in other public places which are the core of the genre. That is what street photography is. Developed and made famous by men like Eugene Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson. They have left behind a treasure chest of pictures of people in their environment.

The «Lehne-alley» is 32 meters long, depending on where it’s measured – and it binds together Grønnegata and Storgata. The first house on the property came in 1818, and it was built on what is described as a desolate plot nearby Strandgaten. The word «smått» is the word the people here use to describe an alley. It originated from the times when Tromsø was influenced by France. The city is also called «the Paris of the North.» That is because the ladies of those times were fashionable dressed just like the ladies were in Paris. Other than that, the city bear little resemblance of Paris.

I have photographed in this alley for a decade. Faces, silhouettes, graffiti, posters and a coffee cup. Some people are shot straight in the face, others from behind, one taking a leak with the lunchbox from the food kiosk nearby standing next to him. The alley is by some called «piss-alley.»

I have gone through a process myself. I’ve gone from shyly taking pictures of people from a distance to gradually daring more. I’ve explored different techniques. Once in a while a familiar face have passed by – this is a small city. When so, I’ve pretended as nothing, looked at posters, extended a short greeting and continued walking. The alley was officially closed one time. Masses of snow from a house roof had fallen down and blocked the small passageway, and tape hindering entrance was put up.

For me it has been a difficult task, I wish I had chosen something else. One day this past fall an adult woman walked towards me, she had seen me photograph towards her direction. Now she was yelling and screaming at me; she wanted to call the police and threatened to take my camera. Since this incident, I have not been back in the Lehne-alley to capture more pictures.

Nevertheless, every day the alley itself is evolving. People are continuously moving through, leaving their imprint. A decade of photographing it has proved just that.

(To see the photos go to top of page and use the keyboard arrows or swipe on your screen)