Odyssey of a Photojournalist
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
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