My Life in Photography
By Binge Eliasson
I have always been guided by feeling. In surfing, skiing, aikido, motor-cycling I have always been on the look-out for the wonderful feeling that appears when everything falls into place and you suddenly manage to do that special turn that you have been trying so long and so hard to achieve.
Timing, rhythm and balance, they only happen through intuition. Reality is much too complex to be grasped by logic. Early on I realised that it is only when you come to the very limit of your training and knowledge that the miracle can happen and you can find that magical moment. It is the same thing with photography. Taking photos is for me a way to keep the miracle of a moment so that you can experience it over and over again.
I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 100 on Christmas Eve when I was twelve years old. I remember my great expectations when, the next day, I walked out into a grey damp Gothenburg. I found marvellous colours in the melting snow with its clear green patches of grass. My disappointment was overwhelming when, some weeks later, I received the developed pictures: small square pieces of paper in black and white.
I started taking photos in a more serious way after I bought my first real camera, an Olympus OM-1, one of the first cameras that could take five pictures per second. This was something that interested me in my work as a professional trainer at Malung´s skiing gymnasium in the late 70´s. In my spare time I walked around in Malung and took photos of everything I saw and then I developed and copied the pictures in the bathroom of my small apartment. One of the first photos I took was of a snow-covered field outside Malung. The snow had blown into small drifts, like waves in the snow. In the drifts long blades of grass could be seen sticking up and the balance between the different lines caught my eye. I was so happy when I developed the picture that I decided to make an extra large copy. In the photo shop “Expert” they had a sale of salmon coloured 30 by 40 cm paper, something I could afford. A bit later I showed the photo to the famous photographer Lennart Nilsson who was visiting my parents. He thought the photo was OK but advised me to take photos of things that could not be seen with the naked eye. In a way I have followed his advice. What I try to catch in my photos is certainly visible to everyone but almost nobody sees it.
In the late 70’s I felt that it was time to take a step further and learn to take photos in earnest. I was lucky to get a job as assistant at the “Studio Tranan” in Stockholm and I started working with Svante Fischerström, one of the best photographers in Stockholm at that time. Svante was incredibly clever in photo technical matters and he had a fine feeling for light. Through him I learned the photographic craft, which was necessary knowledge in order to progress in the world of photography.
At first my aim was to take sports photos and work as a press photographer, but during my time as assistant I came to appreciate more and more the creativity and the challenges of the advertising business. I am happy to have been part of the Swedish advertising scene during the 80’s when everything was possible and money was no limitation as long as you delivered what was demanded. It was a big challenge to be working with so many gifted and demanding art directors. The pictures were always scrupulously examined through the magnifier on the light box.
However, this happy period did not last. The first change came in 1992 when Sweden entered a deep recession. It was at that time I began to ask myself what it was that made a good picture. After ten years as a professional photographer I saw the powerful changes in the trends governing advertising photography. These changes were quite confusing. How come a picture that was considered good last year is not considered good this year? Our vision has not changed! I also began to wonder about the type of pictures I was asked to take. In my wish to make progress as a photographer I asked myself: – How could I possibly achieve something permanently good when ideals were all the time subject to change? That is when I understood that I had to find my own expression, which is not easy when you are constantly influenced by your surroundings and by current trends.
There is a Japanese saying “when the pupil is ready the teacher appears”. In my case it was the poet and jazz musician Olle Orrje. We did aikido together for several years and after the training sessions we talked about music, art and photography. During one of those conversations I described my frustration at the current photographic trends, which were mostly about conceptual aspects and not visual ones. With “visual” I mean the feeling you get when you actually look at a picture without anybody having to tell you about the idea behind it. I like visual pictures that speak to you purely by their form and expression. No explanation is needed.
Olle told me that he had books at home with some outstanding photographers that I ought to see. When he showed me books with photographers like Alexander Rodchenko and László Moholy–Nagy I discovered that there had been people before me with the same visual expression I was looking for. After this I began to collect photo books and my library with inspiring photo- and art books grew. Also, I got more and more inspiration from painted art and from modernism, which by its direct approach explores our visual experience beyond conceptual boundaries. Olle also introduced me to Curt Asker. When I saw his art and realised his visual mastery, especially in the photos he made in order to show his work I felt that I had found someone with a similar way of seeing.
My collaboration with Curt and Olle was very important to my development. I put together two exhibitions “Photography as Gesture” and “Photography as Moment”. Putting together an exhibition is very instructive. You are forced to decide what you yourself consider good. You have to take a stand and you are entirely on your own, for the choices you make inevitably reflect what you think is good. The difficult part is the process of selection. When we look at our own pictures all the circumstances around the photographic moment may still be there like a sort of filter that influences you. It is not enough that you know that a certain photo was incredibly difficult to take. Nobody cares about that. If we need an elaborate explanation in order to appreciate the photo the idea of visual pictures is lost. A picture where the concept or the idea behind it is the main thing is for me no more than a crossword. After you have solved it, the crossword is totally without interest. It is also a bit like listening to someone describing the wonderful experience of surfing. For me a description is not enough, I have to feel the picture in my own body. This is what happens when I look at for example the art of Malevich, Kandinsky and Eugene W Smith.
That is why it makes me happy whenever someone says that my pictures resemble those of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a photographer who has inspired me a lot. Once when I was in London trying to find a gallery that would expose my photos I was told that they were not interested because the photos reminded them of Cartier-Bresson. I took it as a huge compliment. It was like being a dancer looking for a job and finding out that people were not interested because one´s dance style was too close to Nureyev´s.
Recently Mikael Jansson at Profoto said that my photos reminded him of Cartier-Bresson, but in colour. Colour photography has always interested me. Before the arrival of the digital camera, what gave me the greatest creative possibilities was black and white in the darkroom. I took great pleasure in copying pictures all night through. But the digital camera and photo shop enabled me to realize my photographic vision in colour as well. Working with colour photos is a much greater and more interesting challenge. In addition to composition, rhythm and timing you are up against one more thing – colour – and it has to blend imperceptibly with the other components.
Around the year 2000 I met the wonderful woman Elisabet Garcia. We both love travelling so we decided to do travel journalism together. Thanks to Elisabet’s many contacts we could rapidly establish our own niche. This meant, in addition to all the fantastic meetings with people, that I was now free to take photos entirely in my own fashion. Nobody cared where I pointed my camera or how I took my pictures.
Sometimes during our journeys reality unexpectedly opens up and offers me a complete composition. It comes to you like a whisper and is often not so easy to notice. It has taken me a long time to train my ability to see the picture and not just the object and to liberate myself from the current trends. I try to work with space, form and colour to give the photo a certain rhythm so that you can feel it in your body. I try to make a picture that talks to you and gives you energy every time you look at it.
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Elisabet García Dahlbäck, joint owner of Be Inspired Travel, where she works as a writer, editor and freelancer. Has 25 years’ experience of magazine making with a past as editor-in-chief and feature editor at some of Sweden’ s largest magazines, such as Sköna Hem, Elle Interiör (both magazines on interior decoration) and the travel magazine Allt om Resor, which she started in 1998 for the Bonnier publishing house, as well as the editorial contents of the travel group My Travel’ s site (today Thomas Cook). This material has won several awards, among others as the best travel site and travel destination guides by the Dagens Nyheter, a big Swedish daily newspaper.
Binge Eliasson, joint owner of Be Inspired Travel. Works as a photographer, (advertising and editorial) photographic consultant and trademark strategist. Has had photo exhibitions in Stockholm and Paris and has given lectures on visual communication to Swedish international corporations and at the University of Art in Pittsburgh. Binge used to run a photo art gallery in Sveavägen, Stockholm where he now has his photo studio. Binge has over the years worked with most of the major companies in Sweden. Taught a photographic workshop in Iceland together with Tema travel .For years been interested in The Art of Attention.