Museum of Photography

Last Friday, we went to Fotografiska, the photography museum in Stockholm. We hadn´t been before, and I was particularly lured in by a retrospectiv exhibition, "The Man, the Image, & the World", of Henri Cartier-Bresson´s images, many of them famous, like the one on the right, which I borrowed from the museum´s website.

Cartier-Bresson was one of the founders of the Magnum photo agency, along with other legends, like Robert Capa. This exhibition was put together by them, and there is a focus on the way Cartier-Bresson used geometry in his photography. For me, that´s just so deliciously inspiring, I have a love for patterns and such, being also very into textile art&craft. Many of these photos would transform into wonderful knitting patterns!

Cartier-Bresson´s portraits of Giacometti and Faulkner.
He was also a man with good timing, often being where things were happening. He worked fast, with simple tools, and prided himself on not doing any darkroom work, finishing his picture in the very moment that he pressed the shutter release.

I really wish I lived in Stockholm right now, or that Fotografiska was in my backyard, because this exhibition is large and impossible to digest in one visit.

There were two other photographers being exhibited. One was Ruud van Empel with "Pictures don´t lie". His images are collages, basically.

Most of the pictures are of children, dressed up, still, looking with enlarged eyes straight back at you. The backgrounds are mostly made-up forrests, they look real at first glance, but something is off. Everything is hightened, slightly tweaked or completely fabricated, and brightened. It has an eerie quality to it, like one of those horror movies where seemingly well-behaved children go out at night and kill people. Van Empel himself uses the word uncanny.

What he makes me ask myself is how many of the images I am fed on a daily basis are tweaked in similar ways? All of us who are interested in fashion are aware of the ongoing debate about the way fashion and advertising images are edited, giving models perfect bodies and flawless skin. But when are we aware that we are being fed lies, and when are we not? In what contexts do I have my guard up, and when do I unthinkingly equal "photo" to "evidence"?

Then, there is Swedish photographer Anna Clarén´s "Close to home", a collection of dreamy images of her personal life. Here is also a tension, a clash between the personal photo album, the holiday or everyday snapshot that we are all familiar with, and the very arty, staged, professional photo.

For me, on Friday, this was perhaps the least interesting exhibition. However, looking now at the postcards that I bought, it occurs to me that she could be asking questions about the "family project", as it is presented through media like Facebook, blogs, and such. On our way out of the museum, I saw an advert for a course in "baby photography" for "the stay-at-home parent". I am not a parent myself, but I sometimes get the feeling that there is quite a competition among young families, presenting themselves and their happiness to the world. At the same time, there are regularly alarming reports about the increasing number of children on antidepressants, divorce, domestic violence, and what have you.

I find that increasingly, in all areas of life, "the image" of something is so often confused with the content, what it actually is.

In the shop, you could buy 8 postcards for 100 crowns, so I picked two by Swedish legend Christer Strömholm, whose work has been exhibited earlier. Both are from Paris 1962, both classics in Swedish photography. On his website, there are aphorisms of his, only in Swedish unfortunately, but some things he said was:
"Right can be wrong."
"Every day has it´s own method."
"The meaning of the picture is what it depicts."
"Don´t let the motif get in the way of the picture."
"Reality is not art."
"Art is to question."

Oh, and here is a good article on what you can learn from Cartier-Bresson!

Fotografiska is housed in a beautiful building on the northern shores of Södermalm. It´s an old customs building in Art Nouveau style, designed by Ferdinand Boberg, one of the most well-known architects in Sweden.

Opening hours are extremely generous, they close at 9 or 11 pm every evening except on Christmas Eve and Midsumer Eve. They have a self-service bistro on the top floor, with fabulous views over Stockholm. The food is not cheap, but so so good! And it´s probably the only place I have been in this country, where couples sit English style, on the same side of the table - because they both want to enjoy the view!


  1. a photography museum -now that sounds interesting!

    that is a wonderful view

    1. It´s a truly great place. If I lived there, I´d be a member and go all the time!

  2. I love museums, but lately I get claustrophobic if I stay more than 30 minutes--so reading about exhibits is the next best thing! (What an odd thing to develop at this time of life).

    Your comment about what is "real" and what isn't, reminds me of the article I just wrote on the recording industry. But the backgrounds in Ruud van Empel's work remind me of "The Pattern and Decoration" Movement and literary mystic realism, two styles I adore. I am glad to be introduced to his stuff.

    1. I hadn´t hear of the P&D movement, I had to google that. It reminds me of Kafe Fassett´s knitting, quilts and embroidery. I have seen his work several times, it always inspires me. Thanks for pointing me to it.

      Most exhibitions don´t take more than 30 minutes to see. I don´t really believe in staying much longer, I think frequent visits are the thing to do, but not always possible. It´s easy to get overwhelmed with impressions. I always buy postcards of my favourite paintings or whatever if there are some, that way I can reflect on it later. Or I take a snap. I hope you get over your claustrophobia - that must be troublesome. :(