Through February 20
Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm is perhaps best known for his portraits of the Parisian transgender community “Les Amies de Place Blanche.” Their striking intimacy and bold subject matter testify to Strömholm’s artistry. Nevertheless, these same portraits, (which formed the subject of a 2012 exhibition at the International Center of Photography) reveal little about the person who took them.
The current Strömholm retrospective at Pace/Macgill Gallery addresses this situation, pairing Strömholm’s portraits with earlier photos he took during travels to Spain and France. These images shed light on the artist’s character by drawing attention to the things that attracted him.
A familiar image—a heart carved into a tree trunk—greets visitors to the gallery. But rather than sentimentally representing young love, the symbol here evokes a calloused heart, hollowed out by the shadow of its carving and marked by deep scars created over years by unknown passersby. In another memorial to the passage of time, Strömholm presents a solitary window frame amid the rubble of what was presumably the window’s former home. In conversation with this image is a photo taken several years earlier in 1949 of a drawer filled with rusted keys together with another showing the rouge-tinted, forlorn-looking face of a mannequin head set out on a table.
Most of these pictures evoke a sense of loss. They also convey something less overt, albeit equally powerful, when viewed together with the “Place Blanche” series. In all of Strömholm’s subjects—somber as they may seem—there’s a distinct beauty marked by the moment of their being captured, a celebration of the uncelebrated. Given this perspective then, what do these images tell us about Strömholm and his motivation in creating them?
Strömholm developed his style by way of his involvement with Dr. Otto Steinert’s Fotoform photography group, founded in 1949, which encouraged a more experimental, personal, and expressive approach to the medium. Strömholm’s “subjective photography” from this period reflects the delicate sensibility that would come to define his career. It wasn’t until 1986, with his exhibition “9 Seconds of My Life” at the Moderna Museet, though, that Strömholm received the public recognition in Europe he so deserved. Today, three decades later, this Pace/MacGill retrospective should bring him equal acclaim with American audiences.
Correction 02/10/2016, 11:40 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the artist in the headline and in other references throughout the review. It is Christer Strömholm, not Christer Ströholm. The post has been updated to reflect this.