The first thing you see after picking up photographer Simon Johansson’s newest book, “A Familiar Place” (Journal, 2019), is a rather mysterious, elegant, black-and-white photo of a man looking downward, his shadow spread out like some kind of winged, younger version of himself. It is a very good sign of what follows: The photos in Johansson’s book are classic with a dose of the modern thrown in — old but somehow new, too.
The images have a somewhat timeless feel to them; they are black-and-white photos that elicit a poetic, moody feel. There are also hints of older masters of photography, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and (fellow Swede) Anders Petersen. Take, for example, a photo of a woman crossing a bridge with a foggy cityscape behind her: It is reminiscent of Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photo of Jean Paul Sartre on a bridge in 1946 Paris.
The photos in Johansson’s book have the same kind of diaristic approach you see running through Petersen’s work. For those familiar with Petersen’s “Café Lehmitz,” you will see echoes of that here, as well. For instance, one photo shows three people bathed in the warm light of what seems to be a bar, with one person glancing over at a couple that is whispering; another image shows a man leaning into his companion for a conversation in a bar, while other patrons are wrapped up in their own thoughts. These are reminiscent of images in Petersen’s book, like this one of a bar scene in Hamburg in 1970.
“A Familiar Place” is Johansson’s second book. The photos were taken over a span of 13 years, from 2005 to 2018. These are documentary photos, taken with a flaneur’s eye, of everyday life in Stockholm. There is very little text, save for an introductory letter from Johansson, written to Stockholm, which is illumination enough. He writes:
“Stockholm. It is impossible to evade your beauty, vulnerability and vanity. And your flaws. Your rottenness. I visit places where you bleed, I am there picking your scabs. Sometimes I grow tired of you and your easily broken promises. But I never give up on you. Your streets have always offered me direction. Walking here today, I stumble on old memories.”
“A Familiar Place” is a timeless, classic and dreamlike love letter to the city Johansson calls home.
You can see more of Johansson’s work on his website, here.
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