07 August 2008

book review: Lennart Nilsson Stockholm

Lennart Nilsson Stockholm.
Photo: Lennart Nilsson.
Text: Johan Erséus.
Photographic editor: Anne Fjellström.
Published by Bokförlaget Max Ström, 2008.
ISBN: 978-91-7126-083-3.

Stockholm, Sweden. Although I do not live there, I am fascinated by the many excellent photographic depictions of the city. Henry B Goodwin’s Vårt vackra Stockholm (1920), Gunnar Smolianskys fotografier från Slussen i Stockholm 1952 (2002) and Micke Berg's Stockholm Blues (1994) are photo books that I repeatedly return to. Now there is another excellent portrait of Stockholm and its inhabitants, with photographs by Lennart Nilsson.

Spring in Stockholm © Lennart Nilsson, 1956.

Lennart Nilsson (born 1922) doesn’t need to be presented to a Swedish audience. He is, without doubt, Sweden's most famous photographer. At the very least his photographs of the inside of the human body and the beginning of life have fascinated hundreds of thousands of people. Nilsson’s famous book, A Child Is Born, is published in four editions and translated into 20 languages. For his work he has received many awards and prizes, among them The Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation's Photography Award in 1980. British Museum and Tokyo Fuji Art Museum are two of the many places where his work can be found. His new book, however, is made up of lesser-known images from his time as a photojournalist in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.

In addition to Swedish newspapers Vecko-Journalen and Se, Nilsson also worked for international magazines, Life Magazine and Look. From his extensive records, Anne Fjellström has selected and gathered a large number of photographs taken in Stockholm to create the magnificent volume Lennart Nilsson Stockholm. In addition to the photographs, Nilsson, with the aid of Johan Erséus, tells about the photographs and their history.

The staff at Sweden's Riksbank practice shooting © Lennart Nilsson, 1955.

Lobotomy operation of a criminal © Lennart Nilsson, 1950's.

The photographs of Lennart Nilsson Stockholm reflect not only the official polished façade. The book is far from a nostalgic recap. Keen-eyed Nilsson, instead, depicts both the front and rear faces of society at that time. The pictures show the unexpected, as well as the everyday - people in Stockholm, their life and living. Homeless, cleaners and postmen are portrayed as well as film stars, politicians and princes; both the working and upper class. Lennart Nilsson shows a Stockholm in celebration but also in work. The 1953 masquerade at the Royal Opera is intermingled with reports from the daily lives of contemporary postmen. The city's poor and homeless are included, as well as the officials of the Bank of Sweden and unique images from the salvage of regal Wasa.

The Salvation Army is the theme for one of the most interesting series of pictures. In the late 1950s Nilsson spent three months together with the Salvationists to document their lives and work. From the extensive material of 4,500 photos, 13 have been selected for the book. "Strangely enough people in the Salvation Army accepted my presence and my cameras," said Nilsson. It shows. The proximity to the Salvationists is striking, the pictures incredibly strong. At the same time, the pictures are artistic in the highest degree. The question is whether I have seen a better-illustrated reportage.

Salvation © Lennart Nilsson, 1950's.

"I came with a Slumsyster to a compromise wooden building at Södersjukhuset. When we came in we saw four small feet stand out under the sofa. The children were afraid that it was the father who had come". © Lennart Nilsson, 1950's.

Lennart Nilsson Stockholm is a personal portrait of Sweden’s capital and its inhabitants. But not only of Stockholm. At the same time many of the photographs give an overall picture of a departed Sweden. And in some ways, also of today’s Sweden; although it has been half a century since most of the photographs were taken, much in the book is recognizable from contemporary Sweden. This is a book out of the ordinary, a book to study again and again. I strongly recommend it to everybody that is interested in Photography as Art and/or in Stockholm and it's history.

© Lennart Nilsson.

Links: Ulf Fågelhammar, author of the F blog, met Lennart Nilsson in May 2008. Check out his reports. If you have the possibility, I also recommend you to visit Kulturhuset in Stockholm and see Lennart Nilsson's large photo exhibition "Somewhere in Stockholm". The exhibition ends September 7. And do not miss Lennart Nilsson’s official homepage.

- Fredrik Skott


Rhonda Boocock said...

wonderful review....I REALLY want this book!

Anonymous said...

It is a pleasure to read your review Frerik and I am so glad that we are able to show some of Lennart Nilsson's work here on The F Blog. The selection of pictures from the book are great - there are som many, but the lobotomy picture is incredible and the picture of the woman with her boy. Photography at its very best.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

that last image of the man walking into the sunlight between the buildings is breath taking

Brad Wilson said...

I agree with the last post. That final photo takes my breath away.