I first became aware of the work of photographer Martin Bogren about 10 or so years ago in what seems like an entirely different lifetime. I was living with my girlfriend (who is now my wife) in a tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn where someone had thrown up a piece of drywall to create a bedroom. My girlfriend and I had firmly planted ourselves in the photo world at that time — she was working for the storied Magnum photo agency, and I was alternately working as a photo editor for Time, Billboard and the UNFPA along with shooting the occasional editorial assignment to try to pay the bills.
Looking back, it was a pretty grand time. We’d go to gallery openings and hang out with people who were truly passionate about their work. My wife would travel, attending portfolio reviews, always bringing back a stack of work from the photographers in attendance. On one of those occasions, she brought home a slim volume of dreamy black and white photographs by Martin Bogren. The book was called “Lowlands.” I was immediately enamored with it. Bogren’s work conjures up something otherworldly; looking at his photographs takes you into his internal universe. It is a place that can be comforting, disconcerting and sublime.
Bogren’s newest book, “August Song,” (L’Artiere, 2020) is no exception. It takes us into the world of dance balls that happen in the woods and forests of Skane, Sweden. The balls started in the 1950s and became a place where people gather for around a week to drink, dance and celebrate life. Bogren spent years exploring these balls, off the beaten path in rural Sweden.
“August Song” comes at an interesting time. As the world reels from the coronavirus pandemic, people have shuttered themselves to mitigate the horrific effects it has on us. A huge percentage of us are hunkered down with very little contact with our fellow humans. Bogren’s book is a vivid and poetic reminder of our need to connect with each other.
Speaking to the photographer Michael Grieve in the British Journal of Photography, Caroline Benichou, director of Galerie Vu in Paris, makes what seems now to be an even more appropriate and remarkable observation about Bogren’s work in “August Song”:
“Some of the portraits are of stunning eroticism and they contribute to the strength of the series, which is like an evocative allegory of the urgency to live before everything is consumed and to abandon oneself to love — to get lost in the arms of the other.”
It’s true that Bogren’s latest work is awash in eroticism, passion and poetry. But above all, there is that longing to connect, to “live before everything is consumed.”
There are an infinite number of explanations for what function art has in the world. But one always seems to be tugging at my sleeve — that it gives us a way to try to figure out what part we play in the mystery of life. Or, as Bogren told Grieve:
“Yes, I think photography is about searching. But when we have found what we were looking for, we will automatically stop looking for it, right? I don’t know what I’m looking for. Probably a recognition of myself in others, and others in myself — a community with others and a togetherness. This mirroring, this reflection, I believe is an ongoing process in our lives — with or without the camera in our hands. I believe this search is the main reason for us being here and photography can be a wonderful thing for it.”
“August Song” is mostly sold-out through the publisher, but is still available in the United States through the Charcoal Book Club, here.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
More on In Sight: