04 October 2011

From fame to shame; Terje Hellesø

It's been a very long time since the previous post. Many times I've considered shutting the whole thing down and be done with it. On the other hand, it's nice to have a little soapbox to stand on once in a while. According to statistics, there's even the occasional reader still dropping by.

What's shaken me out of my hiatus this time is a virtual earthquake in the circles of Scandinavian nature photography. A month ago, highly profiled photographer Terje Hellesø was caught cheating with his animal portraits of lynx in Swedish forests. It turned out he's been forging a substantial number of photographs over the years, and even received awards for his images. Terje has been thorough in removing his online presence, but young Swedish photographer Tilda Larsson have some examples in her blog. She has an article on Terje in Swedish here.

If you don't wish to read Swedish or machine-translated Swedish, she has made links to some really nice animated gifs and illustrated jpegs reproducing some of Terjes fakes here:
imagelink 1
imagelink 2
imagelink 3
imagelink 4
(hyperlinks removed in edit, as they were not Tilda's work. Please go to this blog for a full account on how these frauds were uncovered, or see links in comment below article. Thanks again to the anonymous vigilante who set me straight on the origin of these disclosures.)

Terje's deceit makes me so angry. He has f**ked up for so many more people than himself. In a way, I can count myself lucky not to be completely scathed, but he fooled me too. As you can see from my previous blog post about the guy.

My acquaintance with Terje goes back a decade. In 2001 I attended a photo gathering at Hvasser, 120 km Southwest of Oslo, where Terje would hold a workshop. He came up from Skåne in Southern Sweden by train, and needed transport from Oslo to Hvasser, so I volunteered. We chatted all the way down. And one night Terje and I stayed back, talking, as the nachspiel after a party petered out. I had thoughts about going pro with my photography, but hesitated for many reasons. Terje picked them apart and explained how, when push comes to shove, it's basically a matter of taking the plunge and work hard. I believed him. It seemed like common sense. But I didn't jump. Not then, and not since. Now I'm puzzled. I wonder if he, already then, had bolstered his career by more than honest, hard work.

What I since realised was that succeding as a professional nature photographer requires a good number of other skills in addition to being a photographer. For one, it's important to be a reasonably good business man. I know I would fall through in that respect.

Incidentally, it has surfaced that Terje Hellesø also has unfinished business with Swedish authorities over tax evasions. So in sum, he has been a total cheat, both with his craft and his business.

Hellesø's fall also precipitates unfortunate consequences for many other nature photographers in Scandinavia. Especially those who make a living on spectacular images of rare, endangered or dangerous animals now face more critical questions about their own authenticity.

And what's even more unfortunate is that the distrust rubs off on Good Causes that such images are helping to promote. Such as wildlife conservation. Such as habitat protection. Such as climate change. And even such as promoting the upsides of nature experience itself.

The documentary status of nature photography is built on confidence. A declaration of trust between photographer and audience. All it takes to bring that down for everyone is one big liar, in this case Terje Hellesø.

Shame on him.


PB said...

Hi, I've read your blog today about Terje Hellesö.

You refer to Tilda Larsson and her blog and say that she made the images: imagelink1, 2, 3 and 4.

That's not correct.
All images are made by some members of Flashback community, and here is our blog: http://terjadefoton.wordpress.com
Please refer to it if you use the photo montage from it.

There are pages in English there, for example: http://terjadefoton.wordpress.com/english/summary-eng/

and here is an overview of 37 revealed manipulated photos, revealed by Flashback members:

More: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/celebrated-wildlife-photographer-exposed-as-fraud-in-sweden-61616.html

Alunfoto said...

Thanks for setting me straight, PB! Much appreciated. I will make absolutely sure the Flashback community gets credited (will edit article after posting this comment), both here and elsewhere.