The dense red dust lingers in the air and forces its way in everywhere. It can be 40°C during the day and below zero at night. You’re 17 years old and it’s your first time working away from home, or you’re 50 and it’s the only life you’ve ever known. You sleep in a swag on the ground for long periods of time. Monotonous food, in the saddle 12 hours a day. As a stockman you gather thousands of animals. Separating and branding them. Castrating young bulls. As a bull catcher you chase the largest and most stubborn bulls in a brutal race. The Australian outback is hard on man and animal alike.
Håkan Ludwigsons accurate depiction above covers his experience while working on the project Balls and Bulldust that we are thrilled to exhibit here at STRANDVERKET – Marstrands new art gallery. The photage is unique and it’s the very first time it’s exhibited in a gallery. The spark was lit in 1980 when Ludwigson met the legendary aboriginal leader Hoggles Danayarri (1925-1988) and the idea was born of a project that would capture the Australian Northern Territory. A gigantic area of 1.3 million square kilometers, as large as France, Italy and Spain all put together.
The “cowboy life” of the Australian Northern Territory is romantically portrayed in films and books – one example is the film epic Australia from 2008 with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. But the life in the outback can be more than demanding and the reality harsh on ranches like Pigeon Hole Outstation, Rockham Downs, Victoria River Downs and Brunette Downs Station. Brunette Downs Station alone covers 12.212 square kilometers and holds 70 000 animals with a crew of 50 people. The titles drover, ringer, stockman and station hand are hierarchically ordered with jill-/jackaroo at the very bottom of the scale. These are the rookies, eager to try on the life as a cowgirl/cowboy In Australia.
Between 1980 and 2002 Håkan Ludwigson spent around 18 months with his camera in Australia. In the summer of 1985 he travelled hundreds of miles between 15 ranches with Inger Kollbratt (later his wife) and his photo assistant Anders Alexandersson. Together they documented the extreme terms behind the Australian meat industry.
The camera manufacturer Hasselblad used the photos in some advertisements but apart from this they have never been shown to the public. They very nearly fell into oblivion but through a twist of faith they were featured in the short-lived American travel magazine TRIP. It was here that the esteemed publishing house Condé Nast first discovered Håkan Ludwigson. When they started their new magazine Condé Nast Traveler in 1987 the young photo editor Kathleen Klech hired a group of photographers that today are legendary: Philip- Lorca diCorsia, david LaChappelle, Brigitte Lacombe, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Bert Stern and – Håkan Ludwigson. Today he is one of the real veterans of the magazine.
Ludwigsons ability to get close to life and to the people he’s trying to capture makes Balls and Bulldust a true exploration! The exhibition shows newly copied photos in the square shape that is typical for Hasselblad cameras. Since the Northern Territory is so close to the equator the light is very extreme. Because of this, many of Håkan Ludwigsons close-up portraits are lit up by a hand held flash, something that together with his technical brilliance makes the photos almost cinema-like in their character.
Balls and Bulldust is a wonderfully coherent project that will go to photo history. The reputable publishing house STEIDL are going to publish the project in book form with distribution around the world, together with STRANDVERKET. This book will be Ludwigsons second on STEIDL .