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I shot Coober Pedy

Shooting on location is always a challenge. Shooting on location while on a road trip is an even greater challenge. How do you plan for something you don’t yet know what looks like? asks visual artist Dida Sundet. (The text continues below the gallery).

Before we left Melbourne I had little to no idea what to expect. I had started working on an idea for a new series that would deal with fear, specifically fear of the unknown, the juxtaposition of horror and humour, and feelings of displacement. My research up to that point had looked at two things in particular: European fairytales, and the typical Australian outback horror scenario from films like Wolf Creek, a crazy lone man in the middle of nowhere, seemingly helpful to lost travellers, only to turn out to be their worst nightmare. There is something very alluring about such stories, and the questionable divide between fact and fiction in them.

Preparing for the shoots remained a challenge pre-departure. There was very limited space for props in the car, and the choice fell naturally on some cheap replicas of hockey masks in honour of horror clichés. That was all we had room for, really, no costumes, no back ups, just a few pieces of plastic.

Lusus Naturae (2009) and Desert Nightmare (2009) are images based on classical pop cultural characters, specifically homicidal maniacs, from the cinematic likes of Jason (Friday the 13th,), The Humungus (Mad Max 2) or Mick (Wolf Creek). They play on the well-known story and frightening idea of an encounter with a madman in a deserted place. The unusual perspective and the tension between our memories of similar narratives and the strangeness of the scene is intended to make its audience feel uneasy and reflect a general fear of the unknown, but also aims to partly diffuse and confuse by contrasting strange elements. The absurdness of these elements and the way they are presented are meant to juxtapose the implied horror with a touch of humour.

Coober Pedy was my first meeting with the desert. As a Norwegian, the Australian outback was, and still is, an unfamiliar universe. Mesmerizing, alluring and terrifying all at once. In Coober Pedy I immediately knew I had found a perfect location to visualize images of a “desert nightmare”. As with my previous work, juxtaposing the real with the unreal, and horror with humour, are key elements to represent notions of displacement, and to visualize a borderland between reality and fantasy.

Check out our  photos from Coober Pedy here.

The chaos that followed the shoot feeds perfectly into the thematic of the images. It was terrifying at first, and absurdly humorous in hindsight. As we packed up at about 2 o’clock in the morning (light painters are creatures of the night) and headed back to camp, two motorbikes we had observed earlier returned and started chasing us while screaming some rather unpleasant things. For what reason, I am not sure, but I can only guess it was part boredom, part curiosity and perhaps a desire for mischief. Faced with a situation in which all factors are unknown, in an unfamiliar (and pitch black) landscape, panic and fear spreads like wildfire. As Eirik stated the next day, I’m sure we must have looked like idiots and probably played right into their practical joke, if it was indeed a joke…(?) But at the time the fear I felt was very real. All of a sudden I found myself faced with a myth, a scenario, I was having fun with only moments earlier – a real life desert nightmare. These images now embody for me what I thought was pure fantasy, as I found myself faced with my Norwegian ‘small-town naivety’ in the vast Australian outback. In some ways, it could not have been more perfect.

Watch episode 3 here.

I do need to add this: Coober Pedy was one of the most exciting and exotic places I have ever been. It is a place I would go back to in a second if given the chance, and I have nothing but love and admiration for it. In many ways Coober Pedy was the first place on our trip that opened my eyes to the incredible beauty of the Australian outback, and my imagination to ways of creating a dialogue between my cultural heritage and my new country of residence.

Image gallery “En route to episode 3″ here.


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