Fotografiska Museet

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“I think I’ve found the spot for my fiftieth birthday”, I told Sue as we sat and enjoyed some late afternoon refreshments at the top floor cafe of Stockholm’s Fotografiska Museet (Photographic museum). Even though I’ve been to the museum on a few occasions before this, I’d never actually made it to the top floor cafe before. I’ve enjoyed a summertime drink at the downstairs outdoors bar, but until today I never knew they had a top floor cafe also. A top floor cafe with great service, great food, and stunning views of Stockholm.

During peak tourist season, I can imagine the competition for window seats must be reasonably tough. Even on a Tuesday afternoon in early Spring there were quite a few people there. Nonetheless, we obtained a couple of great seats, with spectacular full-length window views of the centre of Stockholm. The only thing which spoiled the view was a couple of hand smudges from a child on the window, and so I got up with a napkin and wiped them clean. The older woman sitting opposite me was impressed with my ingenuity, and thanked me.

At the moment there are three fantastic exhibition as the museum, all of them quite different.”It’s like Bill Henson, except the kids have their clothes on”, I joked as we looked at the work by Ruud van Empel. He’s a Dutch photographer who takes hundreds and hundreds of photographs to “construct” brand new images. There’s an accompanying video which shows how he takes lots of different elements from his many photographs and puts them together as a whole new image. In the same way as there’s controversy surrounding Henson’s work of teenage nudes, there’s also controversy surrounding Rudd van Empel’s work also. Some of the accompanying notes tackle the underlying discomfort many people feel about the idea of a middle-aged white man featuring the images of so many young black children in his photography. The video also features a couple of critics evaluating the value of his work at art. One says they’re nothing more than beautiful images; another says there’s a lot more too them, and the longer you look at them, the more depth you begin to see. I’m inclined towards the latter opinion of his work, which I thought was very interesting.

We were also impressed with the work of Anna Clarén, a Swedish photographer whose work documents the lives and experiences of those closest to her. There’s an image of a “very pregnant” woman standing on the shores of a lake in Sweden, completely naked except for her gumboots. There’s a naked man floating, almost as if dead, just under the water. There’s a baby who is perhaps an hour or so old. My favourite, though, was the image of the top of a young child’s head. At first, the subject wasn’t instantly apparent to me. It seemed like just a few swirls. But when when you look closely, you can see the hair on the top of the child’s head in a swirl, looking almost like a cyclone or a hurricane as it appears on a television weather map. Many of the images are almost over-exposed, which I guess is a good analogy for the exhibition’s theme.

The final exhibition we enjoyed this afternoon was a retrospective of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Although he was one of the twentieth century’s greatest photographers, I wasn’t instantly aware of his name. I knew, however, many of the photographs, including one I’ve known and loved for many years, the photograph he took of Truman Capote as a young man. Compared with many of the later photographs of Capote which have tended towards the Studio 54 caricature, this particular photograph captures him as a young man, and with a dangerous look in his eyes.

The retrospective of Cartier-Bresson’s work features photographs from pre-1949 China, the early days of The Berlin Wall, works from India, Iran, and many other places. He was almost literally “everywhere” throughout his career. That it’s all in black and white brings all of these photographs, taken in many locations and over many decades, together into one cohesive body of work which is truly impressive.

So as you might imagine, the combination of great photography, great views, and Stockholm, would make for a wonderful place to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. If I win Lotto, it’s on!

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