Photobook Review: Simon Johansson – Across the bridge

“I’m back. The sound of the Öland Bridge expansion joints against the tires. The poorly planned lanes, so narrow that it makes it easy to imagine cars grazing each other and car paint being scratched off. An equal amount of people eager to get home to the island and people heading for the mainland. The bridge is beaten and worn down, the repairs always ongoing.

Over the last 30 years I have crossed the Kalmar Strait more times than I can count. Thousands. The first years, when the bridge was new, islanders would come out in droves along the road to look at the invasion of the mainlanders. They don’t anymore.

Apart from that most things have kept the same, time runs slower here. But the island is gradually being depopulated. Schools are closed and businesses shut down. I drive past the old grocery store, now turned into an estate agent’s office slash flea market. I pass the small villages populated by prosperous farmers living in freshly painted houses surrounded by perfect lawns. Then come the worn and broken-down farms, where there are rusty, abandoned tractor wrecks and stacks of used car batteries out front.

Here you’ll find the ecological farmers who secretly bury scrap metal behind the barn, the children playing in the stable with the caved-in roof, the teenagers cruising the village streets in their customized EPA tractors. The hard everyday work from Monday to Friday, the box wine drinking on the weekends. The angry notes that the neighbours leave in each other’s letterboxes, the silhouettes moving behind yellowed lace curtains. The local moonshine.

This is where the sea view from Färjestaden has been obstructed and destroyed by new buildings. This is where there’s an annual dance band music week at the Lundegård camping. This is where everyone knows everyone else and the far-right, anti-immigrant party Swedish Democrats won almost 20% of the votes in the 2014 elections.

I’ve traveled these roads so many times that I could do it blindfolded. Over the stubble, through the cornfields, past the abandoned cabins. Soon I’ll be there, in the nice little village Dyestad on the east side of the island. A village where farmers and artists live and work side by side. A village where I’ve spent countless summers.

And after more than six hours drive from Stockholm I realize that this journey has of course been going on a lot longer than that. When I drive through the cornfields there is no avoiding the somewhat prosaic reflection that the road runs parallel with my memories. But what I didn’t know then, that many years ago, was that the best moment would be a bottle of champagne and a life-changing promise one late night in December. What I also didn’t know was that that night would also, ironically, be the beginning of the end.

Missed your love for years afterwards, missed us. Some of the best moments in my life were with you. Do you remember how much fun we had when we did our first collages in the little apartment at Rue Charlot?

I roll in to the village street and I see my children running over to the neighbours. I see the ecological milk farmer chasing out the cows and hosing down the big barn before the next party (everybody is welcome!). There are the students from the folk high school with their rasta hair styles and batik clothes working together with the artist community. I need to step on the break because the man who is the Swedish champion in sheep shearing isn’t looking before he crosses the bumpy gravel road. And in the neighbouring village, almost at hearing distance, there is a music festival. I see friendship, happiness, love, a breakup and a sorrow.

Over all this, the perpetual, monotone humming from the mighty wind farms on the croplands. There is so much ugliness here. So much beauty.” – Simon Johansson

I have met Simon on his exhibition on Bucharest Photo Week 2017 festival where his photos hanged on the walls of one of the venues. The exhibition room had a circular feel to it, with a pillon in the middle. Suddenly the impersonal white walls became the island in Simon’s story.

An absolute surreal place taken out of a movie, where it seems everyone knows everyone and everything is connected. There is a weird familiarity when you stand in the middle of Simon’s exhibition. All good photos must connect the viewer right away in some sort of way and make you feel like you’ve know the characters since forever.

Inside the book you feel like walking among the people there, like one of the oldest inhabitants on the island. You are one of their own, you are part of the story in no time. The immersion level is one of the best I have encountered so far in a photobook: people are showing you their most intimate moments, their secrets, their happiness and their melancholy.

There is also another story among all the peoples’ stories: the photographer’s personal story, delicately hinted in a few lines of the text and emotionally shown throughout the photographic frames.

Simon Johansson – Across the bridge.
Hardcover, 108 pages; 220 x 250 mm; 56 b/w images; English/Swedish • 2016
Text by Simon Johansson
Translation to English: Emma Gray Munthe, Anders Foghagen
Editing, layout, design: Gösta Flemming, Simon Johansson

Simon Johansson is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Stockholm, Sweden. He specializes in documentary photos and recently released a photobook, “Across the Bridge” (publisher Journal), about the everyday life on the Swedish island Öland. He’s had numerous exhibitions, both solo and group. Member of the Swedish Union of Journalists.

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