PHOTOGRAPHY BESIDE ITSELF
LARS TUNBJÖRK 1956 – 2015
Few people have the privilege to influence the style of the global photography scene. However, Lars Tunbjörk belonged to the small group of photographers who with their gaze was able to make us see the world through different eyes. Shooting like Tunbjörk became a concept that photographers during the 1990s had to relate to. Lars Tunbjörk saw what everyone else also saw but were unable to capture through photography.
The book “Country beside itself” (Landet utom sig, Journal, 1993) about the social welfare state of Sweden, poetically described as “folkhemmet”, undergoing considerable change was to become Tunbjörk’s great breakthrough. The book turned into an exhibition at Hasselblad Center in Gothenburg, which was then exhibited at the International Center of Photography in New York before touring around the world.
Lars Tunbjörk, born in Borås, Sweden, began his photographic career as a 15-year-old at local newspaper Borås Tidning before, via the newspapers Värnpliktsnytt and Stockholms-Tidningen, creating a platform as one of the country’s foremost young photographers during the 70s. But it was airline Linjeflyg’s magazine “Upp & Ner” (Upside Down) that in 1988 gave him the photographic assignment to portray the Swedish countryside, which became the starting point for the pictures that became “Country beside itself”. Equipped with a ring flash on a medium format camera, Tunbjörk captured the new Sweden consisting of colourful shopping centres in foreign colours such as orange, purple and mint green. He photographed theme parks, which – like Skara Sommarland theme park – had sprung like mushrooms across the country. He was the first to photograph Gekås bargain shopping centre in Ullared, long before it became Sweden’s most popular destination! A certain sadness accompanied Lars Tunbjörk’s photographic portrait of the disappearing “folkhemmet” Swedes knew as their home; which was being transformed before our eyes without anyone being able to answer “Why?” or “For Whom?”
The book “Country beside itself” was followed up almost 10 years later by “Office” (Kontor, Journal 2002) and “Home” (Hem, Steidl 2002). Ahead of “Office”, the photographer travelled around the world to document the new, modern office landscapes. Locations where people spend an increasingly large part of their waking hours and which, through Lars Tunbjörk’s critical gaze and sense of detail were portrayed in very surrealist and – more than a bit – anxiety-inducing milieus. In “Home”, the photographer begins in his own childhood home at Dammsvedjan in Borås. With his own background as the starting point, Lars Tunbjörk creates a pictorial story about a time and spirit and way of life that many viewers could identify with. Together, “Office” and “Home” bear witness of the state of things at the beginning of the new millennium. A testimony without lecturing or claim to the whole “truth”.
The project “Winter” was first displayed as an exhibition at Moderna museet in Stockholm, in 2007. Lars Tunbjörk, who increasingly suffered ever more difficult winter depressions, saw the project as a therapeutic challenge. He turned his camera towards desolate neighbourhoods in sleet, dirty snowmen and artificial indoor lighting in pubs and other neo-public places that created feelings of isolation, emptiness and anxiety. “Winter” was also published as a book (Vinter, Steidl, 2007).
Lars Tunbjörk’s photographic life’s work has its roots in the classic feature photography as we got to know it since the 1960s. Tunbjörk had no formal photographic training, learning his trade “the long way”. A way that gradually took a more subjective direction. The result was the creation of its own style with a considerably more personal photographic expression than in the classic news feature photography or photo-based art that emerged across the country’s art schools in the 1990s.
Even if Lars Tunbjörk was inspired by Christer Strömholm and his “Poste Restante” (1967) in his early days, it is rather American photographers such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld who have been his role models. And, of course, the Englishman Martin Parr, who Tunbjörk was often mistaken for in international settings. That is particularly true when it comes to Parr’s photography up until the start of the 1990s, when you could consider the friends Martin and Lars “photographic twin souls”. In hindsight, however, we can today conclude that Parr’s British satire and Tunbjörk’s mild irony – with a dash of Nordic melancholy – ended up in completely different photographic genres!
The exhibition ”Photography beside itself” draws its image material from Lars Tunbjörk’s coherent suite of books “Country beside itself”, “Office” and “Home” as well as from “Winter”, a more independent book project. The exhibition’s 80-something photographs intend to display an overall idea about Lars Tunbjörk’s outstanding artistry. No other photographer has dived that deeply into the Swedish soul since Sune Jonsson (1930-2009) took on documenting the disappearing smallholder class in Norrland’s inland 50 years ago.
Sune Jonsson received the Hasselblad Award for his life’s work in 1993! Had Lars Tunbjörk’s heart not broken too soon and had he been allowed to finish his photography, the master photographer from Borås could well have been the next Swede to receive the prestigious Hasselblad Award – the Nobel Prize of Photography!
Strandverket Art Museum