Photographs and text by Douglas Ljungkvist. Also check out his book ‘Ocean Beach’ which is available through Blurb.
As my photographic voice has developed I have become more and more aware of how deeply rooted it is in memory and identity, especially from my childhood.
I partially have gallery owner, Sasha Wolf, to thank for opening my eyes to a new relationship with color. During a review a couple of years ago Sasha asked how important color was to my work. I told her that it was secondary and something I didn’t focus much on. She told me that I should be since color was a strong and recurring formal element of my work. Since then I think differently about color and it has become very important to my photography.
I’ve thought much of where my relationship to color comes from. Growing up in the 70’s there was a very different color palette that I still very much appreciate. Orange, brown, yellow, and red, were used in ways that you don’t see any more. Sweden was a very homogenous society to grow up in and all the teenagers basically wore the same clothes in the late 70’s and early 80’s, almost like a national uniform.
Individuality, unless you belonged to a sub-culture like Punk, was not expressed by wearing something different but by your color selection. I realize now that I still associate people from that time with the colors of the clothes and shoes they used to wear. I’ve always had a good memory for odd details and must have taken mental snap shots of people, their colors, and filed them in my memory. I have since asked old friends if their clothes or shoes were of a certain color. They are usually surprised that I know what colors they used to wear as they hardly remember themselves. Recently I saw a rare appearance of the color maroon and immediately thought of this guy who used to wear maroon tennis shirts. I can’t remember his name but I know what color shirts and shoes he used to wear and what he looked like.
During my childhood I was also intrigued by illustrated backdrops used in black & white American movies from the 40’s. Especially the kind that would show the New York skyline in the background from inside a window. I thought these looked so exotic and beautiful, the facades with their repeated geometric (window) shapes and fake lights. Today my photography often includes scenes with very graphic and flat “backdrops”. Should they also have an interesting color or show scars of history, so much the better.
My Brooklyn is photographed mostly in North Brooklyn in areas bordering industrial zones where it is rare to see people walking around on Sunday afternoons when all the businesses are closed. This offers me a certain quietness that I search for in my personal work. It also ties into another childhood and movie inspiration of mine, the post-apocalyptic. What would it look like if we woke up one day and all the people were gone or you would only see a straggler here and there? These are all ingredients of my street photography which has developed from my urban landscape photography by adding dynamic elements to static scenes. They often depict a single person deep into the photograph, representing how small, temporary, and replaceable we all are.
My street photography process is probably backwards from traditional street photography. Rather than following the action and reacting to it, I start by finding the scene first. This becomes the backdrop where the action will unfold, whatever that might be. Then within that scene, if I include a person, I commonly frame them within a geometric shape in the scene, usually a vertical rectangle. I return to the same locations over and over looking for things that are new, different, and temporary.
The process for my personal photography is intuitive. I never know what I will end up photographing when I set out. I make very few tactical or technical decisions once I start photographing. I don’t photograph in Park Slope – Brooklyn where I live as it’s too ornate and cluttered with details and people living on beautiful tree lined streets.
I think of myself as an artist first and photographer second, similar to a classic landscape painter, but who’s tool happens to be a camera. Aesthetics, mood and atmosphere are more important to me than the actual content in a photograph. Emotionally I am trying to photograph how something feels rather than how it looks. My (solitude) process is one of the things that I love the most about photography. Almost everything else that I’ve done in life I’ve been a classic over analyzer and over thinker. Not so with photography. It’s of the few times when my mind is quiet and I trust myself to just let things happen intuitively.
I’ve only come to the above conclusions by thinking and talking about it (oh, my poor wife!) extensively when not photographing.