The images in Martin Bogren’s latest book, “Metropolia” (Atelier EXB, 2022), were taken in New York City, but that’s really beside the point. His images aren’t so much a reflection of outward things — they don’t “describe” so much as “interpret.”
At the end of the book, there is an interesting interview with Bogren by art critic Anaël Pigeat. Bogren talks about how he got his start in photography. He says he left his home village in Sweden for the city of Malmo, which had a thriving alternative rock scene. Bogren was a part of that scene, too.
That background information helps us understand the interpretive, poetic nature of his book’s structure, both in the sequencing of the images, the color sensibility and the overall effect “Metropolia” has on us. As with music, or film, Bogren’s images allow us to make our own associations. Reading his images lets us peer into his inner world and, at the same time, dive into our own.
There’s an exchange in the interview that touches on some of his more “documentary” work — in the earlier series “Tractor Boys” — that I find particularly illuminating.
Pigeat: “The Tractor Boys series has a documentary feel to it, while the images in Metropolia have more of a sense of timelessness, like a vast collective memory … ”
Bogren: “I don’t believe there is only one way to see what surrounds us, and photography is a great tool with which to investigate this state of mind. I have a very subjective approach. The same is true when a writer picks up a pen. … The images are what they are, and I don’t want to suggest what to think about them. If you are sincere, you can get to something universal.”
Although I lived in New York City for about a decade, when I first paged through “Metropolia,” it didn’t remind me of the city at all. I experienced the book as a dream sequence, a mini-movie, a poem. I felt the freedom, and the inclination, to live in and experience the images in a very personal way, making my own associations and creating my own narrative.
This is what words and sculpture and painting and cinema do for us. They either create or reflect universes, sometimes both. Bogren draws the parallel between an author picking up a pen and his own wanderings through the streets of New York with camera in hand. And I think it’s a wholly appropriate analogy.
Funny enough, all of this conjures up a memory from grad school. There was a professor who encouraged us to soak up inspiration from anywhere we could grab it. We would have screenings of documentaries like “Nanook of the North” and “The Titicut Follies.” At one point, we all took turns in front of the class to read aloud a page from whatever book we were reading outside schoolwork.
One night, we all gathered at the professor’s home to watch a documentary about legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker called “Let’s Get Lost.” Lingering over “Metropolia,” I hear those words reverberating in my ears: Let’s get lost. Yes, you can definitely do that in Bogren’s latest work — dissolve and fade into the inner workings of his, or your own, mind.
You can find out more about the book, and buy it, here.