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A short visit to Fotografiska in Stockholm

Published October 15th, 2011

Last week I was in Stockholm three days for work. My last meeting on Thursday evening ended close to the recently opened Fotografiska exhibition hall near Gamla Stan. I had an hour to spare, so I headed out there. The place itself is quite interesting, just by the harbor (I'm assuming it's an old warehouse) and with an amazing view on the Stockholm city center.



But I wasn't there to admire the building. The main exhibition floor was devoted to Nick Brandt's On This Earth, A Shadow Falls. I own both of Nick Brandt's published books (On This Earth and A Shadow Falls) and have documented myself thoroughly on his very unusual technique. With the exception of a few majestic landscapes, his animal portraits are shot with 50mm lenses, which is very unusual considering he shoots mostly elephants and felines. That proximity makes his photos really stunning and impressive. Furthermore, Brandt has developed a technique to extract and tilt his lens while shooting, and the resulting selective focus is as odd as it's appealing.



Seeing Nick Brandt's photos (most of which I knew) in the very large formats he prints them in was a marvelous and impressive experience. Brandt processes all his shots in a copper tinted black and white, conveying a certain sadness. The philosophy behind it is that Brandt shoots the African wildlife as if it was not going to survive.



At the end of the exhibition, there were four shots from Nick's future book and current work, and the somewhat depressing postulate I mention above is there taken to its extreme. On these shots, Brandt has taken animal cadavers mommified in the salt lakes of Africa and laid them in their native environment (birds on trees, etc.) The pictures are amazing, but the subjects are pretty grisly. I'm not sure he will sell as much of those as he does of the other series, but then that's probably not the point.



As if the immense emotion of seeing these striking and wonderful photos wasn't enough, I then moved to the first floor for two more exhibitions: one of renowned American street photographer Helen Levitt and one of Swedish photographer Martin Bogren.



I had read of Helen Levitt in some photo magazine, but I was curious to see her work for real. It's quite unusual in that the prints are extremely small. 80% of the material is from the 40s and in black and white. It's seminal street photography, focusing on poor areas of New York City. The remaining 20% is color, and somewhat larger prints, and that was - to my surprise - the part of exhibition I preferred. Maybe it's because of the photos themselves and what they represented (street scenes from the 50s and 60s, also involving many children), or maybe because the color was inherently less somber. All in all though, it was a very interesting exhibit.



Unlike Levitt's, Martin Bogren's series didn't quite work with me. The photos were square cropped black and white shots evocative of his childhood in the Swedish countryside. What I didn't really appreciate I guess was the deliberate search for a lo-fi style. I appreciate lomography and see how it can be used artistically, but in this instance, the approach felt artificial to me. Maybe it's because I didn't relate with the subject matter, I don't know. Anyway, I'm not judging his work, it just didn't speak to me.



I don't often get opportunities to do photography exhibits (or maybe I don't create these opportunities...) and beyond the huge pleasure of finally seeing Nick Brandt's prints in real size, I just enjoyed taking to examine, admire and appreciate photography the way it was meant to be. If you're in Stockholm, I strongly recomment checking out Fotografiska, it's a wonderful place!

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pyates
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Porter Yates  almost 3 years ago
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Nick Brandt's work really is amazing. His books do not properly display the prints, to really experience his craft you need to see the shots in large format. He shows at a gallery in my home town of Santa Fe and I have been fortunate enough to see his work in person. Link to his new work here:

http://www.photoeye.com/gallery/forms2/index.cfm?image=1&id=185363&imagePosition=1&Door=51&Portfolio=Portfolio13&Gallery=0&Page=66

I don't like his new collection as much. It is darker and I think he has replaced the ethereal feelings with something much heavier and serious. While powerful, I'm not sure I'd like the 'Line of Rangers Holding Tusks of Killed Elephants' hanging on my wall.