I was transported back in time last night. I was lucky enough to be on the guest list for a private viewing of Stian Anderson’s photographic exhibition at the Strand Gallery in central London. Anderson toured with Norwegian band a-ha for the final couple of years of their life as a band, and was engaged in some of the artwork for their first albums after their hiatus in the early noughties. The exhibition is something of a retrospective of his time with them over these years.
Anderson was present at the exhibition event, and was animated and jovial, and he was accompanied by Magne from the band. We were treated to a-ha tracks over the PA, and a harpist playing instrumentals of some of the bands more elegant compositions, notably from the Lifelines album. And there was free beer, and another hero, Mark Ellen was wandering about. It was an evening spent partly in quiet awe.
My excitement was indeed on a number of levels. It was certainly exciting sharing a small room with one of the members of a band that has defined much of my life, since I was 15. It was also exciting, as a keen photographer myself, and with a love of trying to capture moments of music performance (that’s one of mine, above), to see shots composed by a professional with access both to decent equipment and the front and backstage areas. Not only this, Anderson had been working at three of the last concerts a-ha played in London, including the Albert Hall in 2008, all of which I was also at. Indeed, the first shot opposite the door to the gallery shows the band on stage at the Albert Hall, a shot that – if it wasn’t dark and grainy – I’d have no doubt been visible in!
Anderson’s shots were varied; the posed promotional shots were crisp, colourful and technically excellent, making the most of the looks of the band. The live shots varied between the atmospheric, symbolic arena moments and the more intimate close ups of the band mid performance, but it was perhaps the more reflective backstage shots, before and after shows and on the move between studio sessions that were the more revealing. Whilst a-ha have maintained a musical relationship of some stature for 25 years, there has always seemed to have been significant artistic tensions between the band members and, in the second half of their career they have often been apart; separate rooms, separate drivers, separate spaces. More remarkable than their creative output, their collaborations with artists, their growth as performers, their worldwide following and their ground-breaking videos (and you have to include the likes of Celice and Lifelines alongside the well known Take on Me in there) is the way they have maintained such a long consistent career whilst their friendship has perhaps dwindled. Much like their music, there’s melancholia and poignancy about it.
Anderson’s career has been long and varied, and the a-ha exhibition is well worth seeing. It runs through the first half of March and is free to enter.