Selected works by JH Engström

JH Engström
Nude 1

2005

C-print

125 x 90 cm
JH Engström’s naked subjects are relaxed, seemingly at ease with themselves and the gaze of others. If, on the one hand, the pictures have no erotic charge (it might be fairer to say that they don’t follow the conventions of photographic titillation), on the other hand, there is nothing clinical about them; the casual framing and background hints of domesticity counter that. Nakedness is presented simply as a natural state. Engström, I think, identifies personally with the ’nakedness’ of his subjects.
JH Engström
Nude 2

2005

C-print

125 x 90 cm
His photography is about vulnerability and exposure, and it is as much about his own.
JH Engström
Nude 3

2005

C-print

125 x 90 cm
His ’nudes’ are in this sense self-portraits. On the occasion of his book Trying to Dance (2004), from which the pictures in Out of Focus were taken, the photographer admitted to "...always looking for presence.
JH Engström
Nude 4

2005

C-print

90 x 125 cm
Whenever I try, my doubts get unmasked." The work is therefore autobiographical. And as he puts a feeling of loneliness high on the list of his sensibilities, he has come up with a strategy that heightens the mood; he distances the viewer from himself and from his world (i.e., you will feel my loneliness, too) by a purposefully imperfect technique.
JH Engström
Untitled

2005

C-print

90 x 125 cm

Prints seem muddy, or faded, or the colour balance seems off. This washed-out patina makes the photographs look indeterminately old – were they taken ten years ago, twenty? I think reviewer Martin Jaeggi has it right when, speaking of Engström’s pictures, he has "the impression of looking at memories”.

Text by William A Ewing


Articles

JH ENGSTROM
November 2010, by Milene Larsson, HUH Magazine

JH Engström started photographing the woods when he was 15, to express how beautiful he found them. Then, in his early 20s, he landed a job as Mario Testino's assistant in Paris and, upon moving back to Sweden, Anders Petersen (who in turn was mentored by Christer Strömholm) took him under his wing. Talk about photographic legacy, eh? JH is one of the rare photographers to actually spend years on his projects and putting his soul into each and every one of his award-winning, collectible books. His eye for detail, ability to capture a moment's emotions and eclectic use of photographic styles makes him responsible for some of the most interesting photography to ever come out of Sweden. PS. He has two new books coming out this fall.
Hello JH, how are you?
Good. I'm in Paris.
On vacation?
No, I have access to a studio here. I've been travelling back and forth between here and Varmland, the region in Sweden where I grew up, basically all my life. My dad got a job here when I was 10, so the whole family moved to Paris for three years.
That must have been quite the culture shock for a 10-year-old, to suddenly move from the Swedish countryside to a city like Paris.
Definitely. Those early years in Paris affected me a lot, on deep a level. There were so many new impressions and I had no one to share them with or talk to about them - I didn't really talk to my parents that much - so I built up a world of my own. I'm very affected by situations, so much that I sometimes wish there was some kind of protection.
Would you say those years have shaped you, and maybe even your photography?
I think so, yes. I think everyone is more or less preoccupied with where they come from. At least I am, a lot. To me it's almost an obsession. I guess already back then, as a child, I felt the need to formulate all these feelings and impressions from moving around so much between these two places. Their energies and extremities became very apparent to me. I guess those are the themes I return to in my photography.
You already returned to Varmland in the book From Back Home you did with Anders Petersen. Will you do a book about Paris too? Is that what you're working on now, seeing as you're in Paris and all?
Well, I ask myself the same question. Maybe... probably. I guess I'm trying to write. I don't know what will come out of it yet, but it revolves around my thoughts on photography and also Paris, this very big, absurd city.
Why absurd?
Paris has such an extreme variety of cultures and classes in each and every neighbourhood, and so many things are going on simultaneously, in the open. People being harsh to each other, loudly discussing their problems, fighting, laughing, kissing and showing affection. It's freed from the Swedish correctness. Roughness is mixed with tenderness, beauty with ugliness. There's this necessary, vibrant balance.
And your perception of what is ugly or beautiful will, I guess, differ depending on who you are and where you come from.
Exactly. There are no borders, no definitions, just different levels. Or maybe you could see it as different rooms - both public and secret. The question is where the secret, the private, begins and where it ends. Is anything secret anymore? These are the things that interest me. And both those worlds, the private and the public, are connected, especially within photography.
Is the idea of all these "different rooms" also somehow connected to your eclectic mix of photographic styles, techniques and aesthetics?
Mainly, I want to avoid formalistic limitations. But I guess being eclectic is a sort of style too, so I can't really say that. I couldn't care less about what is considered a good photograph; I no longer think in terms of "good" or "bad," I just let the camera tell stories. To me there's no hierarchical order when it comes to these different aesthetics, because using different techniques is required for what I'm trying to do; I want to be in all these different worlds. What interests me at the moment is carrying out, putting together and presenting my work.
Talking about presentation, would you say books are your medium of choice?
Definitely. I mean, I don't always take photos for the purpose of a book, but books have always been some kind of a starting point for me. It's pretty hip now, but back in the mid 90s, when I released my first book, Shelter, there was almost a general contempt towards the format.

Source: huhmagazine.co.uk


A CHAT WITH JH ENGSTROM
Friday, August 13th, 2010, Vice Magazine

JH Engström, the man behind the placentas at the heart of all this week’s todo, is one of the most praised photographers to come out of Sweden since his mentor Anders Petersen passed him the torch from Christer Strömholm. But we’re not going to get into all that, because JH has managed to do all of the following stuff all by himself: being featured in all sorts of high-end art and fashion publications, showing his work in galleries worldwide, and publishing numerous collectible books; many dealing with the culture shock he’s experienced traveling back and forth between Paris and the Swedish countryside of his native Värmland since he was 10.
Vice: Hi JH, were you ever freaked out by the placentas you shot? When my mother saw your photo in the Still Lifes issue, she told me my dad tried to take a placenta picture when I was born, but fainted before he could go through with it.
JH Engstrom: I have to admit that I almost did too. Especially since it was a caesarean, with lots of complications. But as Susan Sontag said—an important part of photography is taking responsibility for seeing what life truly is. And what can be more so than a photograph of placentas? That’s where life begins, that’s how it looks. It’s easy to look away, but daring to see what things actually look like is taking responsibility.

The advertisers whose ad we placed next to your photo totally freaked out.
Really? I don’t know, maybe the people who are grossed out by them are just afraid of death. I mean, what can be more beautiful than placentas? They are a condition of life, which I’d say is something positive.

Would you say being exposed to placentas and not looking away is a mature way of acknowledging where we came from?
Yes. It’s kind of the same moral as I have for eating meat; don’t eat it if you can’t kill it.

Would you kill an animal?
Not voluntarily, but if I had to, sure. But back to the placentas photo–it did give me an answer to a question I had been pondering for a while: Can you hide behind the camera or not?

Can you?
No.
Got it.
Of course there are exceptions, like if you’re a war photojournalist depicting human slaughter, then you can hide behind your camera. You’re not involved, you’re just looking at the situation through your lens. Personally, I use the camera as a tool to get closer to existential matters. When my twins were born, I definitely took part in what was going on. It was all very intense and with the camera I was able to perpetuate that moment.
Did you arrange the placentas before taking the photo, or was it a snapshot?
I didn’t touch them–the midwives lay them out like that for you. I just took a snap of them.

I’ve heard of people who eat placentas, believing they prevent postpartum depression and increase milk production. It’s called placentophagy, and there are recipes and all. Actually, one of our pals did it just for a lark.
A friend of mine brought her placenta home after giving birth and froze it, then cooked it. But we weren’t too interested in that, not our bag of tea.

Source: viceland.com


FROM BACK HOME: ANDERS PETERSON AND JH ENGSTROM
February 28th 2011, Wayneford's posterous, Posterous.com

Situated on Sweden’s western edge — bordering Norway — the Värmland is a sparsely populated region of approximately 7000 square miles, that is noted for its dramatic landscape, dominated by coniferous woodland which covers 70% of the province, and a rich cultural heritage.
The relatively small population of 310,000 residents, live mostly in Värmland’s urban settlements, including the largest city, Karlstad, and have traditionally worked in the forestry, paper-making and steel manufacturing industries. With many of these core industries now in decline, the regions unemployment levels have risen above the national average, with what work that is available to be found in the service industry.
In 2001, two of Sweden’s most celebrated photographers, Anders Petersen and JH Engström, both of whom where born in Värmland, began a seven-year collaborative project to document the region. Born a generation apart, Petersen and Engström, offer not an objective portrait of Värmland, in From Back Home, but a reflection on the pairs ‘shared identity,’ through a series of personal images that draw upon memories, and responses to family and friends, and the environment that connects the two photographers.
‘Maybe you can’t really go back home. But this is where I’m from. These images pay homage, to the people and landscapes that are my origins. I’ve returned to something my body and emotions recognize,’ writes Engström.
Petersen came to prominence with the publication of Café Lehmitz (Schirmer/Mosel, 1978), and works exclusively in high-contrast black-and-white, a signature style that vibrates with energy. In contrast, Engström — who assisted Petersen for a number of years, and whose influence can clearly be seen in the younger photographers work — straddles both monochrome and colour, with a less defined, but no less powerful approach.
‘The land between Klarälven River and the chestnut tree at Ekallén is full of little hard memories of sad and lonely times, but there is also a streak of warm confidence that runs all the way up to Älgsjövallen, a place of fairy tale creatures and inquisitive moose,’ remarks Petersen, ‘I am carrying my camera, shooting these old dreams through the foliage. It means my memories can never be destroyed, because they no longer end in themselves.’
In this intense body of work, both photographers are drawn to do different facets of the region, Petersen focuses mainly on the people — family and friends — and the random characters that he encounters on his return to Värmland, along with, although to a lesser extent the landscape, whilst Engström’s subjects are more varied, and frequently see the photographer working at night.

Source: wayneford.posterous.com