Christer Strömholm

“Working with photographic imagery is for me a way of living. When I think about and look closely at my pictures, they are all in their special way nothing other than a self-portrait; a part of my life.” Christer Strömholm, 1983.

Christer Strömholm started studying painting in the 1940s with Isaac Grünewald and Otte Sköld. After the end of the second world war, Strömholm moved to Paris and it was here that he discovered that photography was the form of expression he was looking for. It was in Paris that he later became familiar with the transsexuals from the area around Place Blanche. Strömholm’s photographic series about them, The Friends of Place Blanche (1959-1968) is considered to be his most ground-breaking. ”The birds of the night,” as the transsexuals were called, came to be Strömholm’s close friends. The pictures are a personal account of their lives and they highlight the right to a private life and identity.

Christer Strömholm, the doyen of modern Swedish photography and certainly its most influential figure, has influenced generations with his work. He occupies a central position in international photography history and his work has in no small measure contributed to the establishment of photography as an independent art form. Strömholm knew how to capture the character of an individual in his or her persona, however briefly the latter was revealed. The series in which this succeeded perhaps most impressively is that of his images of Place Blanche in the red light district of Pigalle in Paris, where he began to photograph transvestites and transsexuals in the mid-1950´s. For six years he kept returning and taking photos that indicate a great respect, intimacy and growing familiarity: not a voyeuristic gaze, rather an interest in the figure opposite, whose role play Strömholm also used to question his own viewing practice. “They were questioning their own identity and that was the starting point for my work”. (Christer Strömholm)

Strömholm worked almost exclusively with black and white photography and with the recurring themes of death, life, the private and friends. His photographs can be divided thematically into: Images of Death (1954-1964), Private pictures (1974-1982), signs and traces (1982-1993) and Golgata (1993-1996). In the later years of his work, Strömholm’s images become more like collages, where he assembles found objects and works with Polaroid film. The pictures are more abstract and resemble still-life images. With the starting point as the image rather than the technique, Christer changed both the perspective of and the relationship to the photograph within Swedish photography. Using this approach, the photographer would emphasize the subjective in the photograph and highlight oneself as part of the picture.

Christer Strömholm’s (1918-2002) photos have appeared in many published books and been shown in numerous exhibitions worldwide. He is also represented in many international collections. He has received a number of awards, including The Hasselblad Award in 1997.