21 Mar Fotografiska: a new frame on the world
Sweden is a small country with a big punch. It has revolutionised our lives in terms of music (Spotify), design (IKEA), crime fiction (Nordic noir) and food (foraging). The latest Swedish revolution comes from Fotografiska, the Stockholm Museum of Photography – a ‘museum for the future’.
Fotografiska is on track to open two new spaces in early 2019 – one in London and another in New York. Fotografiska looks to inspire a ‘more conscious world‘, to create an ‘international melting pot‘ through ‘world-class photography and an avant-garde restaurant with a buzzing bar scene, a learning academy and modern conversation hub‘.
For me, the space in too many museums does not flow: divided into different sections, some of which you can go into, others you can’t. Exhibitions can also be pretentious and hard to follow, like the ones at the fictitious X-Royal museum in the Palm d’Or-winning Swedish film The Square; or they are don’t even challenge – that’s worse.
I look for museum spaces to engage my senses with the present and to inspire me for the future. Fotografiska’s museum did just that when I visited Stockholm this March.
Founded by brothers Jan and Per Broman, Fotografiska opened in Stockholm in a converted customs’ building in 2010. In New York, it will open a museum at 281 Park Avenue South, one block from Gramercy Park, in a converted neo-Gothic church; and in London in a reconfigured ’80s office building near the Whitechapel Gallery in the East End.
The location, the building is all important. The space is sacrosanct. This is why there is only one space at the Stockholm Museum of Photography… a space that you pay (once) to enter. What I loved was that in Stockholm the whole space is open from 9am till late (till after midnight towards the end of the week), every day of the year apart from Midsummer’s Eve and Christmas Eve. That gives the ‘guest’ a lot of freedom to come and go.
Both brothers, Jan and Per, have their roots in photography. They started off developing their own pictures in their father’s darkroom. Their father was a printer for daily newspaper Dagens Nyhter. I used to work in print. I love print. Per went on to become a professional photographer.
My visit on International Women’s Day
I was in Stockholm for a brief visit. I wanted a break from London and to experience Restaurant Frantzén, which had just been awarded its third Michelin star. I was also inquisitive to see what Fotografiska would be offering London and New York.
My visit to Fotografiska fell on a day when it snowed and snowed, and the temperature never edged above zero. It was also International Women’s Day. Two exhibitions were showing: one of works by German-born Ellen von Unwerth and the other by South African visual activist Zanele Muholi.
They were the perfect contrast: one was about the celebration of sensual, erotic feminism; the other a protest against massacres, homophobia and hate crimes.
To raise awareness, and as part of the museum’s vision of inspiring a more conscious world, men were charged 13% above the regular day ticket price of SEK145 (£12 or US$17) on International Women’s Day – the difference in the gender pay gap in Sweden. The extra money raised went to charity.
New Conscious Kitchen
Fotografiska looks to question what we eat and drink as well as how we see the world through photography. It looks to ‘nudge’ us, the guest, to a more sustainable future. Don’t panic. It IS about ‘sustainable pleasure’ – the bar has visiting DJs and champagne evenings, and the atmosphere is full of vibrant energy… Swedish people like to celebrate.
The concept behind the food and drink is the New Conscious Kitchen. Head chef Paul Svensson is one of 50 Plant-Forward Global chefs. He joins such famous culinary names as Thomas Keller (The French Laundry), Alain Ducasse (Alain Ducasse), Alain Passard (L’Arpège), Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), and fellow Swede Mathias Dahlgren (Rutabaga), to randomly pick a few.
The menu for the restaurant and cafe is ‘plant’ based. Perfect for vegans and vegetarians. With a touch of meat for those who can’t do without it. And fish, of course. This is Sweden. It’s about eating with the seasons, eating local produce, with a minimum of waste.
For lunch I had the typical Swedish dish of Skagen on Rye, with shrimps, mayonnaise and dill on a slice of rye bread. The manager told me that they would take it off the menu the next day, to be replaced by a shrimp sandwich, with fewer shrimps, and with cabbage, fennel and horseradish. That was to avoid the “unsustainable” process of sending Swedish-fished shrimps to Asia to be shelled and returned for eating in Sweden. I like that.
Upstairs & downstairs
In Stockholm, the exhibition space is on the first two floors, and the restaurant, café and bar area runs the length of the top floor. The whole top floor area, with its big open windows, overlooks the water, towards the island of Skeppsholmen. It is one of the best views in Stockholm.
The layout was great for yo-yoing up and down, to and from, the exhibitions.
I had my morning fika (that Swedish habit of coffee and a pastry), then went to the Ellen von Unwerth exhibition, followed by lunch, then down again to see Zanele Muholi‘s self-portraits. I returned two days later for the opening of the Christian Tagliavini exhibition and for the weekend brunch. I would have also liked to have gone along for evening dinner… another time.
My visit… starting with fika
My visit started with fika… a bryggkaffe (brewed coffee – smooth, black, self-service from an urn) and a cardamom bun … one of the best in Stockholm!
Down to Ellen von Unwerth
I then went down a couple of flights to the Ellen von Unwerth exhibition: Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women.
The exhibition took us on a journey through the feminine themes of Power, Play, Drama, Gender, Passion, Love and Lust – described by von Unwerth as “facets of a prism through which I love to look at women”. Swedes don’t flinch when it comes to sex and all its different guises. If only other cities had such open views.
Up the stairs for lunch
For lunch, it was the Skagen on Rye. The music was so good, I couldn’t stop Shazaming. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by different groups of people – some working on their laptops, one discretely on a conference call, others there to meet with friends, and many guests there to visit the exhibitions… Swedish, American, Asian, other Europeans. It’s one of most visited attractions in Stockholm… but without that frenetic touristy feeling.
Then it was down again via the other staircase, past the Wall of Fame, with images of internationally famous photographers taken by Swedish photographer Knut Koivisto, to the Zanele Muholi exhibition.
This was a first for Sweden, a solo exhibition of the work of visual activist Zanele Muholi… her ongoing self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama (isiZulu for ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’). It posed critical questions about social justice, human rights, homophobia and how the black body is represented, accompanied by a very good, comprehensive video about her and her work. Again, the music was key.
Earlier in the year I had taken a course in ‘queer photography’ at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. The more we study a subject the more empathy, understanding and openness, we can have.
Christian Tagliavini – at the weekend
I returned to Fotografiska for the opening of the third exhibition, The Extraordinary World of Christian Tagliavini. A self-taught photographer, Tagliavini is also a graphic designer and a draughtsman. And his works reflect that. He was born in Switzerland and raised in Italy.
Included were works from his most recent 1406 series as well as from 1503, which creatively redesign pictures from the Italian Renaissance period. Also showing were his Carte series, based on playing cards, and Voyages Extraordinaires, inspired by the adventure books of Jules Verne.
Brunch at Fotografiska
I don’t do brunch. I like a simple breakfast and then lunch. Brunch at Fotografiska is different. It’s also a sell-out event. The round tables are communal. It’s buffet style, with waiting staff to seat you on communal tables and to serve drinks. Several of my very friendly neighbours were drinking champagne.
There were four tables of food – breakfast, cold, hot and dessert. I didn’t do it justice. My energy levels were still high from the 20-course menu at Frantzén. However, this was the last meal before I caught the plane back to London. A perfect ending. It has also made me change my diet at home – to be more plant based.
A note about travelling to Fotografiska
I stayed on the island of Skeppsholmen, and walked everywhere. Nowhere took longer than 40 minutes.
To get to Fotografiska by foot, you cross over to the island of Södermalm from Gamla Stan. You can then either walk along the main road by the water, or, once on Södermalm, walk up the steps to NoFo – so called as it is the area north of Folkungagatan street – and along the top of the ridge, with views across the city.
If you take the NoFo route, you can pass the very beautiful Katarina Church and then walk along the neighbouring streets with their old wooden building, and down the cliff again to the museum. I would recommend the detour via NoFo, at least once.
On a final note, Fotografiska is about making the world a better, more sustainable place through the power of photography. It’s about Inspiration, Innovation, Sustainability and Innovation. Lofty values. It has my vote. I’ll be becoming a member in London.
Current exhibitions at Fotografiska in Stockholm (March 2018)
Ellen von Unwerth – Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women … till 20 May 2018
Zanele Muholi – Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness … till 1 April 2018
Christan Tagliavini – The Extraordinary World of Christian Tagliavini …. till 10 June 2018