Fotografiska in Stockholm is one of the largest meeting places in the world for photography with about 500,000 visitors per year.
Stockholm floats on islands, not without similarities with Venice, but in contrast to Venice it has cars, too many cars, and the modernism and futurism of the 1960s destroyed a series of quarters in the city centre.
Fortunately Fotografiska is beautifully situated across the water from the Skeppsholmen island of the old town that is host to a lot of educational and historical building as well as museums, including the famous Moderna Museet.
Fotografiska – The Photographic – is a number of simultaneous exhibitions and a magazine, café, restaurant (good!), bookstore (fine diverse selection), courses, lectures and workshops.
And the opening hours are interesting, at least when I was there in July 2016: Sunday to Wednesday 9-23, Thursday-Saturday 9-01. How wonderful to go there in the late summer evening!
It will take you 30-40 minutes to walk from the Central Station to Fotografiska, and it is a breathtakingly beautiful stretch through old lanes, past the Parliament and Foreign Ministry etc. And then no less fascinating when in the late evening, or night, you walk back again. Try it!
Here is what one could see in late July: An exhibition of Nick Brandt, “Inherit The Dust”, “The Image Of Greta Garbo”, Bryan Adams’ “Exposed” and a selection from his “Wounded. The Legacy Of War” project; Hanna Modigh “Hurrican Seasons”, Aapo Huhta’s work as young Nordic prize winner and Åke Ericsson’s “Non Grata” about Roma people in Europe. I focus in the following on the first-mentioned four.
It will take you several hours to visit Fotografiska to do justice to the building, the environment, the bookstore etc – and of course the exhibitions. The rooms in this 1906 Art Nouveau-style customs building that the Stockholm City paid US$ 30 million to renovate – Fotografiska is otherwise a private enterprise – are ideal: Dark, fine spotlightning and excellently informative texts.
I’ve seen Brandt’s works before, at Photo London, and wasn’t so taken as many others – except of course for the superb technical quality. But what really was the idea, I wondered?
This time, I tried to understand them better and it helped a lot to watch the movie in which Brandt speaks about his motives and goals and how these pieces were done – and, yes, those inserted pictures are real and not PhotoShopped!
The fact that they are real, huge photo walls placed on location opened up for them to become interactive with the local population.
Brandt bases his art on documentary elements, on-site dialogue and very unusual empathy with both suffering animals and suffering human beings. As I perceive them, they are not grandiose or created to make a particular impression. It’s up to you to, so to speak, go inside these images, imagine you are there on that location and get the idea, the story.
They indeed make you think of what on Earth humans are doing to each other and to Nature. And that is where it becomes political. And I must add, very touching too. They express, in my view, a genuine concern for the world and uses the art of photography to make us think. At the same time as these pieces are beautiful in a strange way, all being in the sepia range.
I understood better the greatness and quality of these works when I saw the movie. I warmly recommend that you see it too when you visit Fotografiska. Walk around among these huge works first, the watch the short video and then go back. And you’ll experience that they have changed.
Nick Brandt’s “Inherit The Dust” breaks new ground between political, art and documentary photography. And that indeed is quite something!
His two contributions are extremely different; one is portraits of celebrities, the other very tough-to-look at wounded war veterans.
I find it very interesting that Canadian-born Adams (1959) who is known first and foremost as a singer/guitarist is also a songwriter, philanthropist and activist. And a superb photographer. More about Adams here.
If his black-and-white photographs of more or less war-destroyed veterans cannot make you re-think why on earth there is so much warfare and violence, nothing can. Indeed, what good did war ever do, except for the few profiteers and power-hungry small men in so-called leadership positions?
Here are two of the relatively less disturbing character.
As I said, they will turn you off from war. But whenever I see this type of images of the utter brutality of warfare – from Hiroshima over the little Vietnamese girl running with napalm burning on her back to images from today’s Syria or TV news from hotspots around the world, I ask myself: Do these images somehow rather – and paradoxically – numb us psychologically?
Are they – because they repeat suffering and violence – a kind of image of normality? Do they somehow more or less implicitly convey the message that this is the way it’s always been and human beings are quite evil?
How do we avoid that images of this kind actually add to hopelessness and complacency?
I mean, we don’t go out and scream in the daylight throughout Stockholm when we leave the dark rooms of Fotografiska.
We don’t drop a letter at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which we may pass to protest Sweden’s arms export, one of the highest per capita in the entire world! Do we?
Many of Bryan Adams’ celebrity portraits of are touching and indicate that he has been close to them; they are certainly not just ‘objects.’
Those of Ben Kingsley and Linda Evangelista were particularly intriguing to me.
However, with the exception of the long exposures, these two and others were not that different from other great portrait photographs one has seen in the past. They are superb but perhaps not innovating a new style. Which is perfectly legitimate.
That said, those I will remember is the one below of Her Majesty in some kind of very daily situation with muddied rubber boots next to her and caught in a moment with a beautiful relaxed smile. Plain and human, a genuine moment in everyday life – and therefore a brilliant portrait.
The second is this one of Amy Winehouse. Perhaps it was just a snapshot, there and then. But everything works in this piece, the colours, the lines and her face in the window frame, her eyes concentrating on the camera, a hand on the steering wheel – soon going, no time to waste. A goodbye, one might imagine…
Greta Garbo became a legend, an icon very young and who chose to shun publicity in a radical manner that only added to her status as enigmatic celebrity behind dark glasses living, as she did, in New York.
She was filmed and photographed limitlessly, from amazing portraits to paparazzi shots. Here is a magnificent example of the former, by Clarence Sinclair Bull – and my regrets for the reflexes in the glass that makes strange marks in this superb face and photgraphy.
I can’t write about everything and I warmly recommend the three other exhibitions. Swedish Hannah Modigh works on a philosophy that you won’t guess until you’ve read about her and her intentions behind this series. (You may visit her website, but too many sub-menus at this moment are “Coming soon”, including “The Hurricane Season”).
Finnish Aapo Huhta’s (born 1985) works are “different” – partly existential, partly street photography. As in this one which was my favourite. Here the website and the series Block are the ones shown at Fotografiska.
Finally, read about Åke Ericsson deeply moving photos of Romani in ten European countries here at Fotografiska’s own website.
If you have the slightest interest in art or photography, in architecture – or want to have a brilliant target for your walks in beautiful Stockholm, you just can’t miss Fotografiska.
August 3, 2016