Peter Beste at Pool Gallery
10117 Berlin, Germany
March 20th through April 28, 2009
While Norway isn’t responsible, as is commonly assumed, for spawning the black metal genre, the country has since the 1990s inarguably refined the black metal aesthetic to what we know it as today, bringing the visceral ugliness of the music out into the real world through aggressive acts of violence and destruction to whet the appetites of a mass media hell-bent on sensationalism. Behind the few acts of murder, violence, and arson are the bands themselves – bands like Darkthrone, Mayhem, Gorgoroth, Nattefrost, Immortal, and Emperor. The members of these bands have served as the subjects of a series of iconic portraits by photographer Peter Beste. Photos from the “True Norwegian Black Metal” series have been reproduced endlessly in art and fashion magazines alike, as well as in posters and postcards avidly collected by both fans of the genre and subcultural tourists. Now, a representative selection of these photos is being shown in Berlin for the first time at the Pool Gallery.
What is so attractive about these photographs is their stylistic ambiguity. While Beste clearly has a photojournalist’s eye – the composition in every photograph is perfect – you never feel like he is merely documenting the members of a scene. The subjects, in their corpse-paint and spikes and black leather, aren’t being subjected to anthropological scrutiny – rather, you feel that the subject is in control of the image. Indeed, while many of the photos seem staged, it is never done in a cheesy, metal magazine way. Beste is as much an artist as he is a documentarian. So, while his color print of Gorgoroth’s King ov Hell might work as a poster in a teenager’s bedroom, his photograph of Nattefrost lying semi-conscious in his bathtub covered in shit certainly wouldn’t. Of course, these are two extremes – most of the photographs position themselves somewhere in between.
Not all of the photographs concern themselves with the human protagonists in their demonic guises. Any fan of Norwegian black metal can tell you that nature, in all its ruggedness and brutality, is just as important as Satan, if not more so. These photographs of forests, fjords, and mountainous landscapes, less sensational, are seldom reproduced, which is a shame. Not only are they beautiful images, they give us non-Norwegians a precise visual idea as to where this music comes from – and in doing so, also answer so many whys. After all, the extreme visual appearance that so many of these musicians take on seems to mirror the extremities of snowy, sunless Norway.
Beauty is tough for the eye or ear to accept when it is defined by the Negative. Black metal is essentially the amplification of all that the Negative represents. Amidst all this noise, there are pockets of sublime beauty that are difficult for an undisciplined ear to make out. It is doubtful that any photograph could win a person over to a love of black metal, but the work of Peter Beste at least understands this. Through connoisseurship, Beste renders an accurate visual corollary to the music’s ultimate defiance.
Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio.view all articles from this author