“Sometimes I have problems expressing how thankful I am to my parents directly – to actually say it – and this picture was a way of saying thank you to my father for everything he has done for me. It was also a great memory, a very emotional moment. It’s my most personal picture I’ve taken. In this way, photography has definitely become part of my language.
My father and mother inspired my interest in nature. We lived in a small coastal community in Norway, Steigen, a little north of Bodø, and when I was five years old, my father used to drag me up early in the morning to go fishing. Eventually, this turned into a career for me – I am also a fisheries biologist and work with Atlantic salmon and the migration of animals. I also work with whales, which I sometimes combine with my photography.
The Alta River is one of the world’s best for salmon fishing and I had been doing fieldwork in this amazing river for ten years, where we electronically tagged fish to enable us to follow them after we released them. My father was always very interested in this and I had hoped I could make it possible for him to come to watch some of it. When I was out doing fieldwork, my father would always call me and was very curious about how it was going: "Are there a lot of fish? It would be fun to be there”. I knew he wanted to come, but he never asked. 2015 was the last season of the project, so the last chance. It was also the subject of an NRK [a Norwegian television channel] documentary, so I suggested that we bring my father with us. I had a plan. A fish in the front and him in the background, smiling as he captured it – and his prosthesis clearly in the picture.
My father had skin cancer in one of his legs and, through complications during his radiation therapy, he endured two years of pain. Finally, he underwent an amputation. He is getting old now – he’s 84 – and because of his age and all the medicine he had to take for his pain, he sometimes struggles. But he is a very stubborn guy and as his son, so am I. It was a challenge to get him out to the Alta River and to catch a fish at the same time, but for him to listen to me, maybe that was the hardest challenge! He has always had a lot of opinions, but this time I wanted to be in charge.
When you manage to capture that perfect moment, you feel this rush of adrenaline. I knew immediately this was a very personal image that would follow me for the rest of my life, and when my father is no longer with us. I felt really grateful and it already has a space on my wall. Even the split technique used in this image goes back to my childhood. I remember the first time I got my own diving mask. I went down to the ocean, just 7 years old, and I was really cold. I always dreamed of looking under the surface, and finally - wearing my diving mask – it was like coming into a different world. Two different worlds but in many ways connected. That’s what I try to do: to connect these two worlds.
Before this, my father talked a lot about his health issues, but when he made this trip and he saw the final photograph, I think that was the best medicine he could have received. He didn’t mention his health issues for a long time, he just talked about this experience. He also actually captured the most fish of all of us, so he was very proud of that! The documentary also won a film festival award and a lot of people saw it. He felt a little like a celebrity because he was sometimes recognised and was quite proud when that happened. I know that he is very proud of me too.”
Discover more of Audun Rikardsen’s captivating photography of the Arctic Coast on his website.