Photographer JH Engström (1969) was born in Sweden, however his creative handwriting was influenced by moving to Paris in early youth. Engström’s photographs are autobiographical and presented in the format of a documentary diary. Oscillation between the present and the photographer’s memories can be sensed in his images. There are no strict boundaries between emotions and impartiality. For the representation of his works the author constructs photo stories, adding great importance to the succession and arrangement of the images. The photographer’s creative approach is highlighted by various formats, beginning with snapshots and ending with life size proportions, combining the black and white and the colour photography. One of the most voluminous works of the author is the book The Sketch of Paris that was published by Aperture in 2013. This book contains documentary material collected and selected in 20 years. All together Engström has published 13 photo books.
As regards Engström’s printed works, the trilogy Trying to Dance (2004), Haunts (2006) and Wells (2009) must be mentioned. The first of them was nominated for Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2005 and is a visual diary depicting intimate spaces and naked people. Haunts is a book, where, in the contrary to the first book, the author is focused on the public environment and life on streets. In the centre of the last book of the trilogy Wells there is a deeply personal story about the author’s relationships and children being born.
In the course of time, Engström has established closer friendship and cooperation with Swedish photographer Anders Petersen. The book From Back Home – a joint project of both artists – is an attempt to return in Engström’s childhood city Varmland. In 2009 the book was acknowledged as the best author’s photo book at the Arles Photo Festival. The books Foreign Affair and 7 Days Athens November 2011 have been created together with a French photographer Margot Wallard, who is also Engström’s partner in organising and managing a workshop Atelier Smedsby for young photographers. Next week JH Engström will visit Riga in order to give a public lecture in the framework of the Riga Photomonth that will take place at 6pm on 14 May 2014 at the new building of the Latvian National Library.
As self-portrait and personal experience is the main narrative in your photography, what is the motivation to create your own visual autobiography?
I have a necessity to do it…. But it is also a method. I use it to be able to tell human stories. Generic stories.
You are spending years on your projects. How do you feel when one is completed?
Not too much… Empty in a way and exhausted. But I’m also always half-way into something new when I have finished something, so I think about the new things.
The process of creating a photo book is an artwork itself. What’s the photo book like to be called as the ultimate photographic expression?
It’s very natural to print photography in books since the printing of a photograph is (besides writing) the only artistic medium that does not lose anything by being printed. A printed painting or a reproduction of a sculpture or an installation becomes poor reproductions in the printed form. And I also love the idea that the book is easy to take with you. You bring the book to your home and you can look at it any time. The reading becomes very intimate. The book in itself is also an object…
Your international web based workshop Atelier Smedsby is in its third year now. What is the main ambition for you to organise such an event and what experience can students expect to gain from this?
It inspires a lot to meet 15 ambitious new Atelier Smedsby participants every year. It keeps me and Margot (with whom I organise the workshop) on the toes. We are starting the third year in May. We very much like when there is a large number of different nationalities among the participants. We guide the students during the entire year. We also ask them to report monthly via Skype.
It’s also important that we meet live in Paris three times during the year. We have a good time and we eat and drink together and talk a lot. From the first year there are now three or four students that will do their first book, which is a really good result of the workshop.
Can you please share some insights what are you working on now?
I will release a book in spring 2015, which is called Tout Va Bien. I’m in the end of the editing process right now, I think that part of the process is very challenging and enjoyable. There are some other ideas, of course, boiling in the backwaters. In September I will have a solo show at FOAM Museum in Amsterdam. Kim Knoppers, curator at Foam, will visit me in the total countryside in Sweden next weekend and we will work on the exhibition.