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August - Lennart Olson.

Lennart Olson started working as a freelance photographer in 1954 and quickly became one of the leading photographers in Sweden. Among others he was one of the photographers who started the Swedish photographic association ‘Tio Fotografer’ in 1958. Lennart Olson has produced several books and his images have been shown at a large number of exhibitions in Sweden and abroad, among others at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the 60’s Lennart Olson worked for some years as a filmmaker, producing more than 50 documentary films for Swedish television.

Together, we made our way down toward the sea. Heavy, low-lying clouds shrouded the moors after the recent downpour, but out to sea the cloud cover was thinner and sunlight was breaking through.

Lennart Olson comes here every day. He can wander for hours, walking miles of beach. Here there are no buildings, only windswept pine trees, cowering juniper shrubs, heather, and crowberries.
From his studio, Lennart can look out over the moors and the North Sea. We walk down toward Steninge beach, a mythical environment. The rugosa roses are in full bloom, the thrift is beginning to wilt for this season. The line of low, dark craggy rocks is broken here and there by small, light, sandy inlets. The beach strip is a part of a nature reserve that stretches far to both the north and the south. The sea pies seem to laugh at us. A few horses look at us with appealing eyes from behind their fence.

 “Look here,” says Lennart and points out a clump of bleached and yellowing grass from last year, standing so high that the wind causes it to bow. “It’s like a bridge.”
It’s Lennart’s bridge images that have made him world-renowned. Bridges have always fascinated him.  Perhaps this interest can be explained by the fact that as a child he saw his father dive from a railway bridge into the Higg, which flows through Fritsla, the Swedish village where he grew up.

“Pop drove a cab, but photography was his hobby. He entered a great picture of me in a photo competition arranged by a weekly magazine. He won first prize and I ended up on the cover. Pop was so happy that he sold his taxi and concentrated on becoming the local photographer. For me, the darkroom became a cherished retreat. I shot with a box camera and already as a six year-old learnt how to develop both films and prints”
With a gentle push, his father sent him out into the world. In Paris, Lennart began photographing Swedish artists during the 1950s. Then came the bridges; Swedish bridges, Italian bridges, Scottish bridges, Parisian bridges, and, last but not least, Brooklyn Bridge. Lennart often used his Hasselblad SWC.
During the 1960s, his still cameras had to make way for moving images. This resulted in a series of TV documentaries that gained much attention. He filmed in India and Brazil. He made a film about flamenco in Spain, to name but a few examples.
After several years, he returned to photography. He realized the opportunities hidden in the classic printing technique. He learnt gum bichromate print-making. He continued by developing his photographic bridge images into etchings. He won new territory. And this felt liberating to him.
In a similar way, today he talks of the freedom of digital technology. Now each day he takes his long coastal promenades and sees new images develop, thanks to the new opportunities made available when he photographs with his H 1 and an Imacon digital back. When he returns to the studio, he continues working in Photoshop.
“Digital technology has given me new-found freedom. I feel that I produce completely new images, It’s strange, but I’ve felt the same sort of liberation since I started photographing digitally as when I began with classic printing techniques. The risk with the new technology is that it’s too easy to take pictures, and so you take too many.”

He looks out over the North Sea and ponders:
“My ambition has never been to be the first to take a picture and present the world with something new. I’m not that kind of documentary photographer. Instead, I think I want to come in last,” he says, and laughs. “I don’t want the image to document and he quickly comprehended; instead, I want it to have a depth that allows it to spellbind and fascinate.”

Sören Gunnarsson