What is your best and worst photographic moment?

There are several moments that are my best. One I remember very well, was when I met, photographed and stayed with Ana Melinda in a slum in the town of Quibdo on the west coast of Colombia some years ago working on my TRANSIT project. She lived alone with 11 children in a small cabin, managing to take care of them. What made this into a good experience (it is of course depressing to see how she and her kids have to live), was her wonderful optimism, her belief in life and the future, her hospitality and how she shared two days of her life with me, a foreign photographer. Those moments, when you as a stranger get to meet people and get really close to them, are my best photographic moments. I think that is an important part of what makes a good picture; that you sense the proximity to the subject in the picture, that you as viewer feel like you get close to them in the image.

My worst moment as a photographer was in Yemen in 2008. One morning I met a mother who had to tie her three children with ropes to the wall because she had to go to work. It was hard to see this, and very hard to leave her and the kids behind after a day. In moments like this, I wish I could do much more than just take pictures. I told the local UNHCR staff about her difficult situation, and after the pictures were published in Norway, a lot of people contacted me asking how they could help her and the kids.

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What was your first photo job?

I was a freelancer when I was 16 years old in my native village of Vestfossen in Norway. I used my motorbike and travelled around on small local assignments. I photographed an old house which had been restored for the district newspaper. The picture is as far away from creative photography as you can get. At that time, and several years on, I did both writing and photography, making small local stories on sports, events and minor news.

If you could have been present to photograph any event in history what would it be?

The fall of the Roman empire.

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Who is your biggest inspiration (doesn’t have to be photographic)?

My three kids. They give me a very different perspective on life, which I also bring with me into my photography. I am also inspired by the work of many of my colleagues in Panos, such as Carolyn Drake, George Georgiou, Robin Hammond, Chris de Bode and William Daniels among many others! Because of my three young kids, it takes long to finish reading books. But when I find time, I find a lot of inspiration in novels, among them the Norwegian writers Frode Grytten and Per Petterson.

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What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?

Work hard, then harder and then even harder. That is what gives you opportunities later in life; to not give up, never relax, be on the alert and READ a lot. And to work on my ideas.

What keeps you awake at night?

My seven month old daughter and my three year old son. When I am deep into a project, that tends to keep me awake also.

Are you a lark or an owl?

A lark.

Do you listen to music when editing/working on images? If so what?

No, but I listen to radio. On the National Broadcaster in Norway they have a documentary department which makes brilliant radio documentaries. The podcast is great!

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?

I would work with newspaper / magazine design. I love to do that when I am not doing my photography. Create layouts, illustrations and ideas for designs in magazines and papers. I also work as a picture editor in the daily newspaper VG, so I am doing something other than photography already. Below are two examples of front covers of the magazine VG Helg that I designed.

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Who’s your team? What other people do you regularly ask for advice and feedback and to share inspiration?

My team at Panos, both other photographers and the staff. And because I work as a picture editor in VG Helg, a weekend magazine in the newspaper VG, I find a lot of good feedback among colleagues, both photographers and writers. One of my favourites are Ronny Berg, a feature writer with a very different look at the world. Jonas Bendiksen in Magnum is a great neighbour and colleague where I live, I find a lot of support from him. Former picture editor in VG, Hans-Olav Forsang, has been and still is, an important mentor, specially in editing my work. My partner Hilde, who is also a photographer, gives me maybe the most honest feedback, both on my pictures but also on life…