Sisse Brimberg's "Bride at Paestum, Italy."

Clockwise from above: "Graduation of Navy Cadets, St. Petersburg, Russia," "Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland" and "Mirror Man."

Curious globalist


SISSE BRIMBERG: Photojournalist
When: Through Jan. 30
Where: Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, 1624 Elverhoy Way in Solvang
Gallery hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Information: 686-1211

By Josef Woodard

It's true that a strong Danish connection binds photographer Sisse Brimberg and Solvang's Elverhoj Museum, currently hosting a selection of the photojournalist's work. She was, after all, born in Copenhagen and has a proud link to her heritage.

But the main point to be gleaned from this show, culled from her work as a longtime photographer for National Geographic, is that of a compassionate and visually curious globalist. She boasts a sharp eye and a creative sense of possibilities beyond the ken of your average photojournalist at work and her gig takes her to places as disparate as Russia, Nevada, Iceland, and even her hometown - all of which get wall space in this exhibition.

In fact, Brimberg's images from Copenhagen run counter to the kitschy impression cherished by the Danish-themed architecture and spirit of Solvang. The view of a gray, rainy street through a graffiti-sullied window in "Knipplesbro" seems less Hans Christian Anderson and Scandinavian knickknackery than a splash of urban reality, whatever the locale.

Still, the Danish touch, a sense of getting things just right, without excess, seems to prevail in her work and this show comes to the Elverhoj via the Danish Immigrant Museum in Iowa. Much of her work has been in Nordic and/or northern places, and the most memorable images in this show reveal a northern sensibility, or at least sensitivity.

Her Russian photo essay runs from decorum to tragedy. "Graduation of Navy Cadets, St. Petersburg, Russia" is an image dense with rows of preened soldiers and officers, with a burst of youthful color in the form of an admiral's brightly clad granddaughter. She provides color relief and an aura of innocence.

Innocence betrayed is more the theme behind a coolly symmetrical shot of a young boy and girl in their separate bathtubs in "Jersk Sanatorium." We learn that the youngsters, not yet born at the time of the Chernobyl meltdown, are victims of residual radiation in the area.

In happier pictures, we find exotic marriages of human behavior and rugged surroundings. "Bride at Paestum, Italy" is a photo of a wedding photo shoot and "Mirror Man" immortalizes a scraggly haired man plastered with mosaiclike mirror fragments. The sight might be more remarkable if it weren't part of the normally more untamed antics found at the annual Burning Man celebration in a desolate corner of Nevada.

If there's an image from this selection of Brimberg's work that etches itself into memory, it would be a striking and ritualistic image from a National Geographic spread from 2000 called "The Vikings." In this photograph, shot in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland (an oddball cousin to Denmark and her wintry kin), a ritual bonfire consumes the composition with a hot orange chiaroscuro of an inferno. Firemen, looking small and silhouetted against the wild flames, are fueling rather than battling the fire as part of an annual summer celebration.

Like the editorial mandate of National Geographic itself, as an investigative and nonjudgmental window on the world, Brimberg's work is definitively worldly. Only the mental filter is Danish. After visiting the Elverhoj, you might want to stop in downtown Solvang to discuss the show over an aebleskiver and a Carlsberg.


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