Death and photography have often been connected. A hundred years ago photography was a mystery and people were scared sitting in front of the camera and the photographer behind a black cloth. Frans G. Bengtsson (1894-1954), the Swedish author of the famous novel The tall ships about the viking Red Orm, desribed in an essay from 1947 – Min debut hos fotografen (My debut at the photographer) – his first meeting with the photographer: A real nightmare! You´ll be run through a mangle and pressed and reduced on a piece of paper. A short citation (my translation): “What photography meant I didn´t know in detail; you became a picture on paper, and it suggested that this occurred under ghastly conditions. Old men who no longer were of any use, were photographed and hung on the wall: we have some of those at home……”. Many others, e.g. the American writer Susan Sontag (1933-2004) and the French semiotic scholar Roland Barthes (1925-1980), have also discussed the subject. Sontag, in her famous book On Photography (1977) writes “to photograph someone is a sublimated murder. Also Barthes (Camera Lucida, 1980) saw the connection to death in portrait photography: a subject feels he/she is changed into object – a micro-experience of Death and a transformation to a Ghost.
Perhaps there is a reason why I don´t have too many people in my photographs – I don´t want to kill them!
© HB Jansson. All rights reserved.