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Odyssey of a Photojournalist

In one of those quirks of fate, Mikkel Aaland stumbled into a job that marked the first step toward his career in photojournalism. “I had finished one year at Chico State. That summer I went to a county fair with some friends. We ran into an old photographer who was looking for a darkroom person,” Aaland recalls. The photographer asked if any of them had experience, to which Aaland replied he had taken some photography courses and shot photos for the student newspaper. The photographer looked at Aaland and said that his slim frame would fit in the darkroom. Aaland got the job.

Aaland spent several summers traveling America’s county fair circuit, documenting fairgoers in all their charming and gritty glory. His favorite shots (out of almost 60,000) were compiled in the 1981 book County Fair Portraits (see photo to the left for one example). The book was a critical success, and Aaland appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to promote it.

If you think county fairs sound a little off-beat, consider another of Aaland’s early photojournalist escapades. Shortly after graduating (B.A., Photojournalism, ’74), Aaland spent three years basking in the steam and heat of sweat baths around the world, including Finnish saunas, Russian banias, and Turkish hammans. Aaland’s re-search culminated in the book Sweat (1978).

In 1980, Aaland, working for a Swedish photography magazine, interviewed photographer Ansel Adams. Aaland was amazed to hear the legendary 78-year-old photographer launch into a discussion on digital photography, a medium just emerging and unknown to most of the world.

Aaland embarked upon another journey, one that continues today, yet keeps him close to his San Francisco home—he set out to master digital technology. In 1989, Aaland co-founded a multimedia research and development company specializing in the use of the still image in new media.

Of all his projects, it is in Aaland’s book The Sword of Heaven (1999) where readers truly rendezvous with the man behind the camera. In 1982, Aaland was drawn to a mysterious Shinto priest’s plan to bring peace to the world. In a journey that took him to five continents, Aaland placed pieces of a sacred Shinto sword at key sites, including his father’s birthplace in Norway, the village of Manaus in the Amazon jungle, and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Aaland is working on two books: Shooting Digital and The Future of the Image. He and his wife, Rebecca, have two young daughters. Visit his Web site at www.cyberbohemia.com.

Lisa Kirk, Public Affairs and Publications


  Chico Statements is published by the Office of Public Affairs and Publications twice a year for alums, parents, faculty, staff, and friends of California State University, Chico.

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California State University, Chico
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