© THERESE OHRVALL
MIDSUMMER LIGHT: Tessi och Joel, A self portrait of Öhrvall with Jägerroos, made on first day of summer on his rooftop in New York’s Chinatown.
The life of an artist can often be solitary. Although surrounded by classmates, colleagues, peers or clients at any given time, in the end you are on your own. It is up to you and only you to create your art, release it into the world and keep evolving personally so your art stays unique. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Therese Öhrvall and Joel Jägerroos, 2010 graduates of Parsons, The New School for Design’s BFA in photography program, recently had this life-changing epiphany. Öhrvall, from Sweden, and Jägerroos, from Finland, met at the Parsons program in Paris in 2006 and became friends about a year later. The program was small—totaling only six students—and focused mainly on photography’s conceptual aspects. At the time, Öhrvall’s and Jägerroos’s work had little in common.
After the two-year program ended, they transferred to Parsons in New York City, a move that would prove key to uniting them. Both were extremely influenced by Parsons’ technical and lighting courses, and although still working alone, they simultaneously began making photographs employing staged and constructed narratives using, in their words, “the dark, artificial style of noir lighting that puts both protagonists and villains into the shadows.”
Beyond a shared lighting aesthetic, Öhrvall and Jägerroos also share a Scandinavian upbringing. With that, they both admit, comes a perpetual desire to highlight “absence, melancholia, the uncomfortable, and the misunderstood.” As their friendship grew, Öhrvall and Jägerroos began assisting each other and discussing mutual sources of inspiration—cinema, in particular by Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch and film noir—feeding off each other’s ideas and growing together in exciting directions. In time, they noticed their styles had largely converged, and although neither had considered working any way but independently, it became obvious they should join forces.
Both vibrant and articulate, when Öhrvall and Jägerroos talk about their recently formed partnership—under the name Therese & Joel—they point to the sense of relief that pairing up provides. “It has always been a give-and-take situation between us without us even noticing,” Öhrvall says, “and more and more we kept hearing from portfolio reviewers and teachers, ‘Why aren’t you a team? Why are you making this difficult for yourselves?’ So we just decided to go for it.”
When they collaborate on making photographs, Öhrvall and Jägerroos share the process 50/50; there are no designated roles. Neither feels territorial or egotistical, and sometimes their contributions during a shoot mesh so well, they don’t remember whose images are whose. “It’s our work, so it doesn’t matter who took what as long as the result is good,” says Öhrvall.
Allowing each other to alternate roles has major benefits. “I can think when I am assisting Therese,” Jägerroos explains. “You win time. Things are easier to fix.” For example, they planned a shoot at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn on Memorial Day, not aware that the American holiday would pack the beach with people. As a result, the pair put their heads together to resolve the unexpected turn of events, eventually finding the secluded location they sought by climbing over rocks farther down the beach and photographing behind some houses.
Aside from the comfort of being with a comrade during potentially anxiety-provoking situations, Öhrvall and Jägerroos also explain that their differences are key to their successful collaboration. While Öhrvall tends to photograph in black-and-white, with women as subjects, using a cleaner, more controlled style, Jägerroos tends to photograph in color, with men as subjects, using a looser style that portrays subjects more harshly. “The differences between us only make for a stronger edit,” Jägerroos says. It also helps them grow in directions perhaps neither would without the other’s influence.
The pressure of leaving the comfort of a college community to embark alone on the commercial world is also alleviated by their collaboration. Suddenly, Öhrvall says, she realized “this is actually going to be fun, because we are two. And if you feel that way, it shows in the work.”
In addition to new images that they will make in Iceland this summer as Therese & Joel, Öhrvall and Jägerroos also plan to continue creating personal work individually, knowing that whatever each other experiences individually will only make their collaboration stronger. As Jägerroos puts it, “We have double everything now.”
CAMERA: Nikon D300
LENSES: AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR
18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED
LIGHTING: Nikon Speedlights SB-800 and SB-900