Review by Douglas Stockdale •
War, conflict and then its aftermath can create terrible consequences for man-kind. But what if what occurs afterward is benign and seemingly without any drama? Could this justify the conflict or afford one the opportunity to ignore or look away? This appears to be the indirect question raised by Emanuel Cederqvist’s recent photobook titled The Ditch, investigating a rural island landscape that was the focus of WWII Swedish defense efforts. The Swedes has postulated that if they could flood parts of an island that this might impede a potential German Nazi invasion, thus a complex man-built flood-gate and water-way structures were initiated on the Swedish island of Oland.
The project is a combination of his black and white landscape photographs in a documentary style augmented with historical photographs of the defense construction in the early 1940’s. To create some context, Cederqvist re-photographed some of the same locations that were documented in the historical 1940’s photographs creating an interesting visual narrative about time and the work of nature. What results is a combination of tight studies with broader landscapes to establish the environmental narrative.
What appears evident in this project is how nature is slowly reclaiming man’s intrusion. The ditches of the 1940’s due to soil erosion now appear as meandering creeks, dry-bed washes or slightly swampy area that have become overgrown with weeds and other vegetation. The concrete man-built structures are slowly crumbling into versions of abstract sculpture, perhaps more of an inconvenience or visual nuisance to farmers and others. Comparably speaking to other Aftermath projects this man-built WWII construction has created relatively benign environmental impact. Thus, an island landscape without any drama. Even the books title, The Ditch, appears benign, while the embossed title on the cover is hardly evident, almost invisible, blending into the cover’s vegetation similar to this WWII edifice.
In that sense, this relatively flat meandering island landscape reminds me of the English Ferns, a marshland photographed by Paul Hart, two of the three photobooks being Reclaimed and Drained. A relatively featureless landscape that from the proper perspective can take on enchanting poetic narratives.
This book is also a reflection on how ineffective man-made artifices are that were intended to create a barrier in an attempt to control a potential adversary. We can wonder if the lessons of the ineffectual Great wall of China or the many European castles with their ‘daunting’ moats were lost on those in the early 1940’s? It seems that the lessons need repeating with the construction (and demise) of the Berlin Wall, and the America’s Republican Wall with Mexico. How long ago were the border stops a frequent rite of passage as one attempted to traverse across Western Europe?
The Introduction is in English and Swedish, while the colophon and captions in the ending pictorial index are only in Swedish, which for me, contributes to the mystery of this landscape. The historical images from the Swedish Military Archive are printed smaller that contrast with the larger photographs by Cederqvist, a nice visual counterbalance between the two. My only esthetic nick of this book is of the printing of the black and white landscapes, as a true black does not appear evident, which creates a series of lower contrast images. This could be a factor of the very low luster paper used for the printing, while my personal caveat is that as a black and white photographer, I tend to be a Modernist regarding black and white tonal values on a page.
Notwithstanding, the book is a beautiful treatise and reflection on the aftermath of conflict.
Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal.
The Ditch, Emanuel Cederqvist
Photographer: Emanuel Cederqvist, Born in Kalmar, Sweden and resides in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Small images from the Swedish Military Archive.
Publisher: Blackbook Publications, Gothenburg, Sweden, copyright 2021
Afterword: Emanuel Cederqvist
Text: Swedish and English
Hardcover with debossed title, Smyth sewn, Index with captions, printed in duotone at GöteborgsTryckeriet, Sweden
Photobook Designer: Eric Dahl Palmér and Emanuel Cederqvist
Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).