Dag Knudsen has been honing the craft of symmetry in photography for over a decade. Here, he discusses his menagerie of portraits and just why they are so satisfyingly pleasing to us viewers.
Rarely do we come across something in the It’s Nice That office that makes literally everyone laugh. But lo and behold, this is one of these projects. Captured by the Oslo-based Dag Knudsen, established for his previous work in the commercial, portrait and editorial sectors, the Norwegian photographer’s latest project Symmetrizoo is an absolute triumph. It’s a series of symmetrical animals. Need I say anymore? Keep reading if you wish dear reader, but ngl, I totally understand if you just want to look at the images.
It isn’t the first time Dag has dabbled in the art of symmetry. It’s a tactful form of craftsmanship that he’s honed for over a decade thus far. In 2016, while shooting a beauty editorial in Oslo, he cast a sphinx cat as a co-model and took a couple of portraits of the cat on its own to experiment with the technique. “And that is when the Symmetricat emerged,” Dag tells us. “Immediately, when I saw it, I knew I had to make a whole series of these symmetric sphinx cats. And I did.” Soon enough, he exhibited 12 different portraits at Gallery Ramfjord who in turn, started representing Dag with the the series. And soon after that, he started photographing Symmetridogs, birds, lizards, frogs, hedgehogs, rabbits, llamas and so on; a delightful menagerie of bewildered expressions and lovable resting faces.
Currently on the hunt for some more exotic species to photograph, Dag usually finds his animal friends/models through a network of people he knows. Once, while on a residency at Mana Contemporary last summer however, he put up an open call in the local vet and an overwhelming amount of pet owners came forward offering, in their eyes, their extraordinary pets to be cemented in photographic glory.
Even though he wouldn’t really classify himself as an animal photographer, Dag has an uncanny ability to capture these animals in statuesque stillness. “The cats can be prone to be divas but I have a good connection with them and just like human divas, they eventually give me a shot,” says Dag. The dogs on the other hand, are a completely different story. “The dogs pretty much shoot themselves due to their unconditional crave for either attention, or snacks. They are very corrupt. The fox was actually quite tricky. All the lizards are really quick so you have to move around and be agile. It can be a real workout.”
To achieve his masterful and almost unnoticeable symmetry, the shot has to be 100 per cent right. He shoots with a studio flash and changes the colour of the backdrop for pretty much every photo. No matter how much he plans, the shoot always ends up being something “a bit unconventional” of course, because the variation of sticky to fluffy species can be very unpredictable. On several occasions, Dag sadly hasn’t been able to use a portrait of a particular animal because they couldn’t sit still or close their mouths etc. Alas.
Fun and games aside, Dag’s use of symmetry in these wonderful portraits goes far beyond exclamations of cuteness. In fact, symmetry has a strong effect on the minds of the audience as there “is nothing in nature that we see in everyday life that is completely symmetrical naturally.” For Dag, symmetry in photography provides a strong sense of balance enhanced by the stark coloured backgrounds and crisp lighting. “It can have an almost hypnotic effect on the viewer,” continues the photographer, “giving them a more wicked sense of visual pleasure.”
Through this extensive, and mesmerising series, Dag transforms the beloved faces of animals into otherworldly creatures; they become godlike, saintly, with a hint of the celestial. “I myself suddenly understand how the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats,” says Dag. “And last but not least, these animals all have souls and if my series can help advocate a stronger global animal awareness, that would definitely make my day.”