An introduction to the work of
Helga Theilgaard
by Lars Schwander

Helga Theilgaard trained with Royal Court Photographer Rigmor Rydtskov, best known for her life-long collaboration with Queen Margrethe II, from 1999 to 2003. Rigmor Mydtskov was a very sensitive person with an outstanding flair for the art of portraiture, and Helga Theilgaard has skillfully managed to carry on this tradition. Over the years, she has created a number of beautiful portraits of Danish public personalities such as author Morten Sabroe and Rigmor Mydtskov.

Portraiture is the core of Helga Theilgaard’s work and the social aspect of this has become more prominent over time. She gradually got on close terms with the islanders of Christiansø off the coast of Bornholm and portrayed them in rich colors on a uniform white background. The exhibition “Island in the Sea” (2007) was later on displayed at museums across the country. Many of these portraits appear quite classical and especially the photographs of the children are unforgettable.

The exhibition and the book ‘The Rootless’ (2010), which portray homeless people in Denmark, further pronounced the social aspect in Helga Theilgaard’s work. The project deals with people, who willingly or unwillingly in one way or another are left on the outskirts of society. With the project, Helga Theilgaard tried to reduce the distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’ by focusing on the well-being and the living conditions of the homeless. Contrary to most others who have worked with homeless people, Helga Theilgaard decided to invite them into her studio and stage her portraits. Once again against a white background, but this time in black and white only. In every way, the project gave a voice to the vague shadows in the dark, who almost invisibly graze us as we pass them in the streets, as well as to the boundary-testing and loud individuals, who intrude and take up too much room in public space. ‘The Rootless’ partly materialized into a book and partly into large photostats exhibited in public places. In this way, she once again displayed her staged portraits in the streets. Helga Theilgaard created a rare and almost physical piece of work.

In continuation of the social aspect of this project, she is planning a series about the prostitutes, who every day stand in the street outside the window of her studio in Skelbækgade. The working title of this project is ‘Body of Desire’, which is realized in 2013-2014.
Several times Helga Theilgaard has returned to the medium of documentary. The portrait ‘The Word and the Light’ (2001) of cameraman Henning Bendtsen especially stands out. Henning Bendtsen was an institution in Danish film industry and his work on Carl Th. Dreyer’s ‘The Word’ and ‘Gertrud’ are milestones in film history. It redounds to Helga Theilgaard’s credit, that she created this portrait in time.

In Cannes – far from Skelbækgade- Helga Theilgaard has depicted the gala premiere of Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘The Hunt’. She is currently working on the series ‘La Dolce Vita’, which probes into the big film premieres and award shows. A series about dreams, longing – and vulnerability. All that is reflected in intense and inspissated portraits of the people present.

Helga Theilgaard has received several grants to carry out her projects, some of which are from Palle Fogtdal, EGV Fonden, Sonningfonden, OAK Fonden, Det Obelske Familiefond and LOs Kultur- og projektpulje.

Lars Schwander, Curator and Subject specialist in photography, 2013