Review by Paul Anderson •
Have you found yourself alone, walking through a familiar urban environment, hardly aware of your surroundings? You walk on autopilot, along a route well known to you, passing by warehouses, office buildings, commercial establishments, and housing complexes with hardly a glance. Your thoughts become introspective, and you are literally absorbed in your own world, your own private space, while moving through the much larger public space. Jonas Dahlström and his camera traveled throughout his native Sweden from 2016 to 2020, searching for just these scenes. His images consider human existence within contemporary urban spaces, an environment that can be isolating and cold, yet at times graceful and protective.
Dahlström captures his subjects with a patient camera. He finds solitary people walking dogs, riding bicycles, taking trips to the corner store, and so on. In his compositions these figures are dwarfed by the concrete and steel structures of the cityscape. His images are little studies of day-to-day life, the people in them walking on in the silence of the prints.
As a collection, these images are noticeably tight in composition, style, and subject matter. There is strong consistency of form. They are at roughly the same scale, are cropped square, have a controlled tonality range, and use shadows to great effect. The photographer shows respect for his subjects. The work calls to mind the mid-20th century urban photography of Ray Metzker or Harry Callahan.
Dahlström has interestingly titled his images with the time-of-day at which each capture was made, beginning with 07:27:47. The images are sequenced this way, although they are clearly not all taken on the same day. The titles give a sense of moving from morning to evening through the daily lives of his subjects, and they give nothing away in terms of location or time of year. The last image is titled “19:27:47,” exactly 12 hours after the first.
The shadows cast by buildings, street signs, people, and animals play a critical role in these images. In some, the presence of a person or object is only hinted at by its shadow, and these shadows provide intriguingly warped versions of the real thing. Additionally, building shadows form strong graphic elements that lead the eye to specific focal points. For example, in image “14:26:07” a large shadow on a warehouse wall points directly to a boy walking through the scene. Sometimes, two related objects can appear with one observed directly and the other seen as a shadow. Image “17:13:23” is a fun example of this, where the shadow of a person appears to be walking a very real dog.
There are other moments in the book that delight. In one engaging example, a boy runs freely in an enclosed space with balloon in hand (“09:23:57”). In another, a woman in a flowing dress moves gracefully through a series of triangular shadows (“14:48:40”).
In conclusion, many of the urban spaces presented here are rather impersonal, filled with hard vertical and horizontal surfaces, and contain an abundance of concrete and steel. Signs of nature are largely absent. There is tension here between the human elements and the architectural elements. Yet, the human elements animate these scenes and add a much-needed softening influence. They provide a reason for the very existence of the urban environment.
The book is nicely printed, it is well sized, and the consistency of form across the images makes it pleasing to look through. This book should appeal to those interested in urban street photography with an architectural twist, or to students of architecture as a viewpoint on human interaction with urban spaces.
Paul Anderson is a photographer/digital artist, working in Hermosa Beach, CA
07:27:47, Jonas Dahlström
Photographer: Jonas Dahlström (born in Malmö, Sweden, where he currently resides)
Publisher and printer: Kerber Verlag, Germany
Essays: Foreword by Jonas Dahlström, “Your Moment on Earth” by Petra Gipp
Text: Swedish and English
Hardcover, 24 x 24 cm, 160 pages, 76 illustrations
Design: Rikard Österlund
Articles and photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).