Thursday, 20 June 2013

SÅSOM I EN SPEGEL



This morning, at 5.30, I tiptoed out into my balcony to admire the views. It was completely calm, not even the slightest breeze to disturb the waters. The wind would be born soon and grow into late afternoon, but for the moment, serenity was reigning over Hammarby Sound. Looking down was just like losing yourself in a giant mirror that replicated the sky above.

This scene brought suddenly a familiar wording to my mind: "Såsom i en spegel" ("As Though in a Mirror"). You know of course that this is the title of a path-breaking film by Ingmar Bergman. In that movie, Bergman's genial photographer, Sven Nyquist, set the tone by picturing a likewise calm sea outside Fårö in the Baltic, which triggered my memory. Of course, there is a difference: the movie was shot in black & white; in calm evening hours; and the sky was clouded. But why let minor differences spoil the analogy? Instead, let's honor the two artists by deleting the colors in the title picture. The mood in this new version is quite different, don't you agree? 


Unfortunately, I can't show you the corresponding scene shot by Nyquist, but this picture from the film at least shows the serene atmosphere of the surroundings. I realize that my humble effort does not even come close to the moody imagery that Sven had in store for us. But he was an artist, whilst I am simply a (hopefully gifted) amateur! 

So let's leave the visual arts for a moment and reconsider the title of the film. In fact, its English version ("Through a Glass Darkely") is not really up to the task, in my view. Can we guess the origin of this phrase! No? Well, it could stem from a well known romanticist author. In one of his novellas he is pointing out that the true meaning of one's existence could be glanced only by considering your life to be a theater play. But why not let the author speak for himself: 
"... it was necessary to find, in a little world known as the theater, a couple of people who were not only animated by true imagination, true inward humor, but were also capable of recognizing this state of mind objectively, as though in a mirror, and of introducing it into external life in such a way that it should have the effect of a powerful spell upon the great world which surrounds the little world. Thus the theater, if you like, could after a fashion represent the well of Urdar, in which people can look." ("Princess Brambilla", in E.T.A Hoffman, The Golden Pot and Other Tales, Oxford University Press 1992).
Now, this being out of the way, we can present Ingmar's movies in a new light. Let's assume that he had read Hoffman's novella at an early stage in his life; the mirror motive is prevalent in even his earliest pictures. To begin with, they appear only as short cameos, as if the director wanted to just hint at the urge to look inside himself and perceive his true inner being. A good example can be found in his early masterpiece "Smultronstället" ("Wild Strawberries").

Ingmar Bergman really came of age first with his grand masterpiece, in which the concept of "mirror" was presented already in the film title. Here, for the first time, he allowed himself to look deep into his soul and show the resulting insights for all the world to see. Who in "Såsom i en spegel" could be said to represent Ingmar and his inner thoughts and feelings? In fact, all four of the actors are involved: from the schizophrenic daughter to the introvert father preying on her; from the frigid and hapless husband to the newly awakened boy. 

With this film, Ingmar started a sequence of highly personal movies that got him international acclaim. But, in a way, they are but re-hashings of the main theme presented in "Såsom i en spegel" and you could do worse than limiting yourself to see only this of Ingmar's many films.

This movie still staying in my thoughts, I wonder whether other folks than great artists have the same ability of introspection. Are there mirrors to be found by us too, allowing us to explore our innermost being and make us, as well as others, aware of the often convoluted and sometimes frightening personality we really are? Of course, I cannot answer for other people. But, come to think of it, my old negatives that I mentioned in Shades of Gray, laboriously acquired in forty years of large format photography, come to mind. Aren't those like small mirrors that permit me to look into my soul?




Large format photography is not precisely a spontaneous exercise. After all, you are carrying along equipment weighing 10 kilos or more, which takes up to half an hour to set up before you can begin taking pictures. So the motives you choose don't come out of the blue; you tend to return to the same place over and over again, until conditions are just so to get you a result you can live with. Is it so far fetched to believe that this exercise is being governed by your subconscious and that the result is letting you glimpse into your soul?

As I have told you already in Shades of Gray, I have begun taking out my old negatives of the cupboard and bringing them to life. Looking at the result, I often feel forced to take a step back and consider what I am working on. It is as if I am looking down a deep well (or mirror, if you prefer) and discovering hidden traits in my personality that I hitherto have happily suppressed. To emphasize that point, why not take a look at this picture of an apartment building on Hornsgatan in Stockholm.


I feel inclined to dedicate this picture to my father. He grew up under atrocious circumstances during the Great Depression and came to adulthood in the inhuman depravations of WWII. Ever since he strove hard to overcome the wounds afflicted to his soul, so that he could shape a decent existence for himself and his loved ones. But, at not so uncommon occasions, you could see the hardly controlled facade cracking and the horrors of yore shining through.

Whom am I kidding? Is it not so that children inherit the traits of their parents? Am I not bound to always keeping a tight control of myself, like my father, to get to grips with a turbulent and hurting interior? Is this picture not really holding up a mirror, showing me my own troubles and despair?

But enough of these intriguing thoughts! Sorrow be gone! Time to cut loose from our journey into the Underworld, "instigated" by E.T.A. and guided by Ingmar. There is a more joyous theme to pursue yet before this post is finished. Have we forgotten that today is solstice day? As I am writing this, the longest day of the year is slowly journeying into evening; the sun is already hiding below the horizon but still in touch with the northern clouds, illuminating them with a rosy shine to raise our spirits from the deeps.



Tomorrow will be a big day of joyous festivities, when the Stockholmians get off their back and hurry out to sea, on boats ranging from the big vessels of the Wasa Fleet to the smallest barges full of festive parties.

HAPPY MIDSUMMER   –  GLAD MIDSOMMAR    to all my readers!



Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A NATION REBORN


In Sweden, the weeks of mid-June are pleasant to behold. After a long harsh winter and very short spring, suddenly, the heat comes to the rescue and it is time to go outdoors and start living again. Usually, the first two weeks of this enjoyable month experience a heat wave, with temperatures around 25° Celsius. The sun is shining most of the day and night and is heating up the atmosphere to please us all.

This year is somewhat different. Temperatures are a bit lower, but still above 20° when the sun is shining. This is being accompanied by intermittent showers that cool off and clean the air. All in all, a very nice experience. 

The Swedes are generally known as a rather reserved and taciturn crowd. But you would be amazed to see them now. It is as if a different people had moved in and replaced the ordinary citizens during those Summer weeks. All public spaces are being occupied by frolicking and sun-bathing crowds, as are the sidewalks outside restaurants and cafés. Youngsters aplenty clad with a white cap are celebrating graduation from highschool and college – waited upon by their parents with funny placards, depicting them as babies – and driving off, howling and hooting on big lorries with loudspeakers on full blast. 

















Would you think the ruckus is abating towards the late hours? Far from it, "I could have danced all night!" is the parole to follow, especially for the youngsters. To prove my point, why don't you take another look at an earlier blog post of mine, showing what people here are up to in the early morning hours?


Last friday evening, some suspiciously looking "hoodlums" were acting strangely on the street and sidewalk just below my balcony. In fact they were painting the asphalt with new lines as if trying to confuse drivers and walkers. I was almost tempted to call the police and have them arrest these malfeasants. But it turned out that they were preparing for one of those funky summer events, a street race for bicycles, on the streets and park of my narrower community. This race went on day long on Saturday, with all kinds of age participating in the event. Towards early afternoon, the real pros appeared, to be documented by yours truly for your benefit.
















As an aside, I arrived in Sweden myself for the first time precisely in those weeks of June, 51 years ago. Does it surprise you that I got enchanted and decided to move to this benighted country? Little did I know about the other half of the year and the other side of the Swedes! But you have to take the bad with the good and, on balance, I think I made the right decision. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

SHADES OF GRAY


"No!", I am sorry, this blog post is not about that book of recent acclaim, much sought after in the bookshops at the moment. Instead it is about the peculiar propensity of photographers to deprive the world of its colors, so that the viewer may concentrate on shapes and luminosity when considering views in their representation on fine prints. 

Even if this could be considered an ultimate artistic sophistication, the practice has its origin in a technical invention. That one consisted of spreading a porridge of silver nitrate on glass or paper, which turned, when subject to light, into shades of grey, the darker the more light received. Thus suddenly any person, able to afford the – rather expensive – equipment necessary to catch the light on the substrate, was turned into a magician that converted the world into shapes of grey, whilst still preserving outlines and luminosity.

For more than 150 years this was the utmost of photographic imagery, much longer so for the enthusiastic amateur. Even if color photography was invented eventually, it was cumbersome, expensive and not easily subject to manipulation. All this of course changed in the digital age. Nowadays, everybody and his/her grandmother are happily clicking away and sharing the result in glorious color, on paper or – preferably – on the screen of our precious new viewing machines.


Still, the old art of black-on-white is not dead. There is the almost limitless mass of pictures from the pre-digital age resting in our cupboards and in photo-books of yore. Now and then, but rarely, a practitioner of the old art can still be seen exploring the world, with tripod on shoulder and huge camera in tow. In addition, people have started converting digital pictures into shades of gray; in the real sense of the word, they are taking the color out of the world, keeping only shape and luminosity. 

I hate to admit it, but I am one of the old-timers whose photographic production was most active in the old days of black-on-white. I have been taking pictures for some 60 years now, but only started to take them in color since five years back, when I acquired my first digital camera, a humble Nikon D 60. 

Why have you never seen any results from my 55 years of color-less photography? The answer is simple: most of my photos were taken on large format film, with negatives of size 9x12 cm or larger. In my younger days, I could just about afford to buy a camera and lenses for those large negatives; no money left for the huge investment in equipment to enlarge the negatives and rendering them into prints! Furthermore, there was never room in any of my lodgings for the considerable space needed to create a functional darkroom.

So my thousand or so large format negatives from this productive period of my youth have been resting, patiently asleep, in my drawers all those years, without me being able to judge whether they would be worthy of a larger audience.

Comes the digital age to the rescue! I have recently acquired a scanner that permits me to download all those negatives into digital yes's and nos. Now, for the first time, I am able to observe what came out of my feverous activities of yore. I can tell you that I am very surprised about the quality of those pictures. Consequently, you will not be getting many blog posts from me in the near future, and neither will my website be updated as frequently as usual. Most of my time will be spent on developing – and printing – those old negatives. Who knows, even a book may eventually come out of this exercise.

That's all for today, I am afraid; off to the computer again to develop some more negatives!

POSTSCRIPT: The finished book can from abroad be ordered from my website emsvision.com. Swedish readers can order it from BOKUS or Liten Upplaga.