How Viktoria Sorochinski shot a whole series on a three-week residency

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In the spring of 2015 Viktoria Sorochinski found herself on a three-week residency on the island of Halsnøy, Norway. At only 15 square miles, Halsnøy is home to a population of just 2500, but its sylvan landscape became the setting for her series Brother & Sister.

Sorochinski had won the residency after a portfolio review at Rencontres d’Arles with organisers Øyvind Hjelmen and Helén Petersen, and was initially very daunted by the prospect. “I was scared because I thought trying to make a whole new narrative project in three weeks seemed like a crazy idea,” she says.

“I didn’t even propose a project. I wanted to allow myself to get inspired by the place, and to create something spontaneously. I had been lacking in inspiration for a while before, so this residency brought me back to life, in a way.”

Looking Back, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinksi
Looking Back, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinksi

When BJP first interviewed Sorochinski it was 2010, and she was living in New York and working on Anna and Eve, her Lucie Award-winning series chronicling the changing relationship of a young mother and her daughter over the course of seven years.

Anna and Eve was the first project where I focused on family dynamics,” she says. “When that was almost finished, and I slowly started photographing other families, I realised it was something I was very interested in. I was always fascinated by psychology and people in general, but I didn’t really work with it photographically until I started to work with Anna and Eve.”

Now based in Berlin, the Ukranian-born photographer continues to work on projects focusing in on family relationships, but usually works on them for the very long term. Daddy, which follows a young father and daughter, is currently in its ninth year, while in Silent Dialogues, a series of one-off portraits of family members, is entering its eighth.

“I’m looking for those psychological moments – my main interest is that,” she says. “I’m trying to watch and really observe, to notice something that I can transfer through my photography, and to capture something that can’t be vocalised.”

Sorochinski ready-to-fly
Ready to Fly, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinski

On Halsnøy she set about shooting more one-offs for Silent Dialogues, but soon came across the brother and sister Marte and Mathias. At the time she was reading a book called Brothers and Sisters: Discovering the Psychology of Companionship by Lara Newton, a former student of Carl Jung, and it was “as though all the elements just came together”.

“The whole book is based on the psychoanalysis of dreams and fairytales – she analyses the characters and the archetypes that appear in fairytales and dreams, specifically brother-sister bonds,” Sorochinski explains.

The residency was situated at Halsnøy Abbey, the island’s medieval monastery, and the location proved to be another inspiration, both for Sorochinksi and the children.

“The house was very magical. I knew from the moment I walked in I wanted to photograph it,” she says. “It was surrounded by mythology, all the people on the island believed it was haunted.

“When the children came in for the first time they were really scared, they didn’t want to go upstairs. They would say they were afraid, and that they thought there were ghosts living there. I found it interesting that to them this was a real thing this was a real haunted house.”

Reflecting on History, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinksi
Reflecting on History, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinksi

Despite the serendipity with which it came together, Brother & Sister was difficult to shoot. Marte and Mathias were shy and didn’t speak any English, and Sorochinksi felt the three-week time constraint.

“If it was a more long-term project I would probably have more of a chance of going deeper into the subject,” she says. “This was a short project, so I feel like there could potentially be more to develop.”

Nevertheless, she says she relished her time on the little island, and would love to go back. “The whole place feels so inspiring,” she says. “I don’t know what it is, it has this energy, that really pulls you in. It brings a different inspiration. The forest, the house, the sound of the ocean. It all seems like a fairytale”.

Discovering Each Other, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinski
Discovering Each Other, from the series Brother & Sister © Viktoria Sorochinski
Visit the halsnoykloster website for more information about the residency programme.