Christer Strömholm: A Way of Life

JH Engström No title. From the series Tout va bien, 2014 © JH EngströmStockholm is a city of islands – 14 to be exact. Knitted together by bridges and ferry routes, they are but a pinch of the vast Stockholm Archipelago which counts some 30,000 islands and islets within its reaches along Sweden's east coast. For cultural enthusiasts, the city boasts more museums and art galleries per head of population than any other European capital, with around 100 institutions at any time presenting exhibits to educate and entertain locals and visitors alike. On the island of Skeppsholmen in central Stockholm is the Moderna Museet, which counts in its collection the largest archive of works by Swedish and Nordic photographers.

The Museum’s current exhibition, A Way of Life, is exploring how a strong subjective tradition developed among photographers in the latter-half of the twentieth century by tracing the influence of early pioneer Christer Strömholm (1918–2002) on contemporary photographic artists from the region.

Anders Petersen Paris. From the series City Diary, 2006 © Anders PetersenStrömholm is a preeminent figure in the history of Nordic photography. He developed his practice while living in Paris in the 1950s and 60s, where he engaged predominantly in street photography. His gritty images of the transsexuals of Place Blanche became the most famous of his works, demonstrating a rejection of the romantic subjects that were common in pictures of the French capital after the war, for a more realist style like that of the US-based documentary photographers, Lisette Model and Diane Arbus.

At a lecture to the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts in 1983, Strömholm explained: “for me, working with photographic images is a way of life. When I think of it, and when I look carefully at my images, all of them, each in its particular way, are nothing but self-portraits, a part of my life.” This attitude influenced and inspired the generations of Swedish photographers who studied at Stockholm’s Fotoskolan institue, which was founded by Strömholm and attended by some 1,200 students during the height of his tenure between 1962 and 1974.

Many more photographers have since graduated from the school and continued to develop the Strömholmian tradition - one characterised by a bold, individualistic and unbound creative approach. Several such individuals have work featured in A Way of Life, alongside images by Strömholm. With more than 300 photographs by 29 artists on display, the exhibition presents a comprehensive overview on the development of a uniquely modern Nordic visual language.

More photographs from the exhibition can be viewed on the Moderna Museet website and the exhibition catalogue can be viewed online here.

Header image by Christer Strömholm, Shinohara, ca 1961/ca 1990 © Christer Strömholm/Strömholm Estate