Exposure: Tonje Thilesen

Gem Fletcher profiles Brooklyn-based photographer Tonje Thilesen, whose image-making explores our precarious coexistence with the natural world, and spans fashion, portraiture, and observational photography

“It just feels so good to not be in this world sometimes,” Tonje Thilesen tells me. It sounds dramatic, but they are right. We exist in a time of not one but multiple interconnected crises – it’s a lot to hold. One of those disasters has been front of mind for the Brooklyn-based photographer for decades. “I began reading up about climate change when I was very young and was already so depressed and scared for the future. I felt an urgent need to spend as much time in nature as possible before it changed.” Thilesen’s work is an urgent form of picture-making – simultaneously a salve in the face of looming disaster and a vital drive to honour and archive what could be lost forever.

Born and raised in Oslo, a strong relationship with the outdoors was an integral part of Norwegian life for Thilesen. As a teen, they spent time photographing insects, amphibians, and the surrounding environment born out of a deep curiosity with macrobiology. “I’ve always been drawn to quiet places,” says Thilesen. “Sound is a big part of it. There’s so much going on in ­silence. There is so much ­nuance in natural sounds, and even though it can be so quiet, it’s ­never actually quiet. It allows for this meditative state.” This sense of reflective stillness is a through line in their work, quietly illuminating details that often go unseen.