Bringing Blonde Into A Black & White World

One of the tragic things about retrospective exhibitions when the artist in question has passed away is that they cannot be there to answer any questions about their work or add any anecdotes. It was therefore a luxury when viewing the current retrospective exhibition of Christer Strömholm’s photography at C/O Berlin that one of his sons, Joakim, was at hand to guide viewers on a tour. 

Structured not chronologically but by subject matter, the exhibition documents over 150 of Strömholm’s beautiful black and white images. Depicting the world around him as he travelled extensively, mostly in France but also to Spain, Japan, India and the U.S., none of his pieces (bar one) have titles. Instead they are categorized by subject matter, left untitled so that the images can speak for themselves, or as Joakim suggests, so that your imagination is not taken away.

Like Father Like Son?

Joakim admits that he hardly ever saw his father as Christer “dedicated his whole life to taking photographs for himself.” I can’t help feeling a little sad for him, and detect a certain note of bitterness as he introduces the section of the show focussing upon Hiroshima after its bombing, laughing with disbelief, “This is where he was when I was born!” The silent monochrome images of recently orphaned children are heavy with a poignant quality, the infamous image of the blinded young girl eerily haunting. Joakim explains how his father was always concerned by social injustices and the plight of the outsider.

Master of Illusion

Never commissioned to take any photographs, Strömholm followed only his intuition when it came to his photographs’ subject matter. His most famous series is of a group of transexuals in Paris (aka “Night birds”) in the sixties, which combines two of his favourite motifs: the outsider and women. During this time in Paris, men dressing in women’s clothing was illegal, clearly demonstrating that it was a tough time for the transexual community. Strömholm integrated himself with these people and over a series of ten years documented their lives; as a result, many of the images on display exude a warmth depicting the subject’s friendship with the photographer. At first glance I don’t even realize that some of the subjects are men, their seductive poses and props masking their underlying masculinity and making them every bit as feminine and fun as Strömholm’s cheeky Eiffel Tower image.

CO Stromholm

Art lover Ludwig Obst enjoying Strömholm’s work at C/O Berlin. Photo: Chris Phillips

Women are also the main focus of Strömholm’s only titled work, “Little Christer.” Depicting a young boy staring up in awe at a pair of women’s legs on a stage, the artist obviously saw too much of his younger self in this scene to ignore. Despite this particular overt proclamation, he claimed that, “When I think about it and look at my pictures more closely, they are all – each in its own way – nothing but self-portraits, a part of my life.” This, in a way, applies to most photographers. Judging by the show, and Joakim’s testimonies, Strömholm had an amazingly rich, varied and extraordinary life; take the opportunity to witness it for yourself. 

  • C/O Berlin – Christer Strömholm “Post Scriptum” – Until March 17th 2013 – Open daily: 11am – 8pm [Admission: €10 / €5 concessions]

Article by Marie J Burrows