Fotografiska—Up Close and Personal with Sweden

If a picture says a thousand words, than what do hundreds of photographs in one of Stockholm’s most acclaimed museums—Fotografiska—say about Sweden?

Located in Slussen, the privately owned photography museum is housed in a brick Art Nouveau building, renovated by the city of Stockholm to the tune of 250 million crowns. Opened in 2010, it’s as you’d expect, very cool, hip and modern…so is the café and bistro inside, including the harbor views.

Here's where you order. There's plenty of good seating.

Here’s where you order. There’s plenty of good seating.

I went there recently with two friends–one an American, the other a native Swede. We wore headsets and listened to the tour guide discussing the exhibitions, starting with Ruud van Empel, a Dutch photographer who uses Photoshop to create simultaneously realistic and surreal landscapes. There’s a feeling when viewing his work that something is a bit “off,” only what? Study in Green #2

It becomes more clear when you realize that to create one image of a child, Empel uses multiple photographs, from up to 40 different children, piecing together their eyes, cheekbones, lips, hair, and other body parts (often using his own hands). It’s like a genetic experiment gone bad. All you need is Twilight Zone music playing in the background to complete the effect. Still the pictures are colorful and riveting. World #7

World #29If nothing else you want to keep staring to try to make sense of it—figure out what’s real, what’s not. My take away: Don’t mess with Mother Nature.

The next exhibit we wandered through was a retrospective on the black and white world of Henri Cartier-Bressen—the father of modern photojournalism. Seville, Spain. 1933

It seems impossible that one man should be so lucky as to have captured so many critical moments in history. Bressen was the last man to photograph Mahatma Gandhi alive and the first to photograph his funeral. He was the first foreign photographer permitted to take pictures “freely” in post-war Russia, a year after Stalin’s death. He was in China during the “Great Leap Forward,” in 1958, photographing the people’s reactions to Mao’s Cultural Revolution–making the cover of Time magazine. A eunuch of the Imperial court of the last dynasty. Beijing, China, December 1948

Not surprisingly, he coined the phrase, “The Decisive Moment,” to mean, one must “see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and…know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”Hyères, France, 1932

Bressen never cropped his photos, he never used a flash (too impolite), he never intruded on life, by rather let it roll by, watching for the moment that he could “seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph.” My take away: The most meaningful moments in life are the ones happening everyday…live for those everyday moments, that’s your history in the making.

The last exhibit we saw (before heading to lunch) was the one I was most anticipating, “Close to Home,” by Anna Claren–the only exhibition by a Swede. I assumed the theme had to do with wonderful family moments…I was only partially correct. Here’s one of my favorites…a baby’s head.© Anna Clarén

As for most of the other photographs, her pictures did capture family moments–private moments of her own children, husband, mother and friends—however, the point was not to remark on the joys of family life, but rather to consciously hold in the viewer’s attention the fleeting nature of love and family. © Anna Clarén

It was with desperation, I felt, Claren photographed her loved ones; hoping to embrace a memory that was already fading the moment the shutter released. That is the reason why, she explains on the audio tour guide, each picture is washed out, creating, in effect, the “fading” of time.© Anna Clarén

Her voice, on the audio guide, tells me she wants people to “relate to these photographs” (says they are the types of photographs we might have at home in our own collections). I want to tell her, “I can’t relate, not really.” I have colorful and sometimes out of focus images of kids smiling, goofing, and playing. (In not one of her photographs is anyone smiling.) It was, as my Swedish friend confessed, a side of Sweden she doesn’t like to see, a bit mournful and sad. My take away: There is a truth to be found in Claren’s work. Indeed, life is precious and it won’t last, (at least not on earth), but I have to believe when I look at the photographs of my family and kids, that this, the real life creation, goes on. A photo is paper. A family is forever.

Photos courtesy of Fotografiska.


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