Lars Tunbjörk: A View From the Side
Lars Tunbjörk is one of Sweden’s most internationally renowned photographers. His photographs reveal warmth and humor and a deep fascination for people’s loneliness and longing for meaning. Tunbjörk’s work encourages the viewer to pause and think, and evokes a range of emotions, including happiness, recognition, sadness, and anger.
The current exhibition at Sweden House, the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC, features twenty-five examples of his career, displayed in a black space that enhances the vibrant and almost garish colors of his images depicting daily life. Tunbjörk’s photographs capture the mundane in a captivating way, elevating it to a higher level.
The choice to exhibit Tunbjörk’s photographs during Sweden’s EU presidency in 2023 was a natural one, as his work reveals warmth, humor, and a deep fascination with human loneliness and the search for meaning. Many Swedes see themselves reflected in his photographs, according to Helene Larsson Pousette, the Counselor for Cultural Affairs at the embassy.
Tunbjörk’s career was cut short when he passed away at the age of sixty, leaving behind a vast collection of over half a million negatives. His unique perspective on the absurdity of the world extended beyond his home country and seemed to originate from an invisible third eye, showcasing his admiration for the built environment.
One of his most iconic images, “Times Square, New York, 1996,” captures a dynamic arrangement of shapes and colors, hinting at the future of one of the world’s most recognized urban scenes while simultaneously freezing a moment in time. Only after absorbing the meticulously crafted shapes and colors does one notice the presence of humans, emphasizing Tunbjörk’s signature use of on-camera flash and the precision of Hasselblad optics.
Tunbjörk’s early black-and-white work, such as “Island/Iceland 1986,” reflects the best traditions of documentary street photography, following in the footsteps of photographers like Chris Killip and Josef Koudelka.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were particularly fruitful periods for Tunbjörk as he masterfully captured the juxtaposition of the ordinary and extraordinary, and the humorous alongside the empathetic. His depictions of daily life resonate with viewers, evoking a universal connection to the pathos and melancholy of modern existence.
Color plays a vital role in Tunbjörk’s work, using vibrant shades of Cerulean blue, cardiac-arrest red, and multi-dimensional yellow to breathe life into the corners and edges of his frames, presenting an alternative universe just beyond our everyday doors. The use of on-camera flash adds an extra layer to the surreal nature of his photographs, further emphasizing his command of the medium.
Throughout his career, Tunbjörk traveled the world, documenting various aspects of contemporary life with a consistent blend of humor and appreciation.
Following his sudden passing in 2015, the Lars Tunbjörk Foundation was established to preserve the entirety of Tunbjörk’s body of work.
This exhibition will be on display until August 27, 2023.
The exhibition is produced by the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, D.C. in collaboration with the Lars Tunbjörk Foundation.
About the Author
Lars Tunbjörk (15 February 1956 – 8 April 2015) was a Swedish photographer known for his “deadpan portraits of office spaces and suburban lifestyles”.
Tunbjörk was born in the Swedish town of Borås, a place which was a big influence for his work throughout his career. He was also influenced early on by Swedish photographer Christer Stromholm and American photographer William Eggleston.
His photographs can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Centre Pompidou and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.Tunbjörk was a member of Agence Vu and worked for The New York Times Magazine, Time, GEO, and others.
Lars Tunbjörk: A View From the Side
until August 27, 2023
House of Sweden – Washington, D.C.
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