The exhibition "The Temptation to Exist" presents two series that are essential in European photography of the second half of the twentieth century; Les Amies de Place Blanche by Christer Strömholm and Café Lehmitz by Anders Petersen. These two photographers, beyond being the two great exponents of Swedish photography, shared a way to understand the photographic medium that was decisive for contemporary photography. The work of Strömholm and Petersen, professor and disciple respectively, shows a palpable Nordic melancholy, as well as an intense empathy and a compromise with the photographed environments.
Christer Strömholm (Stockholm, 1922-2002), well connected to the existentialist milieu of his time, moved to Paris at the end of the fifties living around Place Blanche near the Pigalle neighbourhood. There, he befriended a community of transsexuals and travesties who worked on the nearest streets and hotels, and began to photograph them showing their most vulnerable and ferocious beauty. The series, which was first published in Swedish in 1983, became Strömholm's most iconic work, as it symbolizes what for this artist meant working with photography; the possibility not only to "capture the moment" but also to delve into the big questions of the life: love, death and human loneliness.
Anders Petersen (Stockholm, 1944) travelled to Hamburg at the end of sixties and began to frequent the Café Lehmitz, a pub on the city's red light district, a microcosm and refuge for a number of people who lived on the margins of society: prostitutes, workers, customers and pimps. During three years, Petersen created a provocative and brilliantly vital document, which was published in 1978 and quickly became one of the most influencing books in European photography. "The people at Café Lehmitz", Petersen remembers, "had a presence and a sincerity that I myself lacked. It was okay to be desperate, to be tender, to sit alone or share the company of others. There was a great warmth and tolerance in this destitute setting." In his photographs, the bar customers share moments of camaraderie, they dance, they hug each other or just remain absorbed. One of the most famous pictures is a portrait of Rose and Lilly, which was also used to illustrate the cover of Tom Waits' record Rain Dogs.
Both Strömholm and Petersen developed a very personal work that serves a documentary objective at the same time. With complicity and respect, they gave visibility to those people, who even living at the limits, chose to move forward. In their work, the unique picture is converted to a sequence, turning the photographer's creative process visible. This would be a process similar to what occurred in other areas of contemporary thought after World War II. It is the case of Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, one of the most provocative and radical authors of this period, who calls himself an "organic thinker", as for him every event lived, physical or intellectual one, is taken advantage to shape a conceptual body. In his book "The Temptation to Exist" (1956), he claims: "Current times have made a permanent question out of our thinking. Wars, conflicts, aberrations, addictions, finally put us against ourselves within the dark nonsensation. What drives us to continue to exist?"
On the occasion of the exhibition, Foto Colectania and RM have co-edited the book Christer Strömholm, Les Nuits de Place Blanche.
Opening: Wednesday April 15th, 8 pm.
Opening activity with Joakim Strömholm and Christian Caujolle at 6.30 pm.
For more information you can visit our blog.
You can view the pictures of the opening in our Flickr account.