One of Sweden’s most acclaimed photographers, Gerry Johansson takes photos of places created by people, but only when they’re totally empty. It might sound kind of lonely, but if you like to imagine the weird lives of strangers all over the planet then Gerry’s pictures are the perfect springboard. He’s been around for decades so you might have encountered his work before, plus he caught the eye of famous photography organisation theHasselblad Foundation, which is a pretty big deal.
Johansson has exhibited at places like the Museum of Art in Matsuyama, Japan, and the Modern Museum of Art in Stockholm, Sweden. His current exhibition Closing the Books America Sverige Ulan Bator Kvidinge Pontiac Deutschland at GunGallery in Stockholm, just opened. It features photos from six of Gerry’s previously published books and marks a conclusion of the work he has been doing for close to 16 years. Since some of you won’t make it to the show (it’s a pretty long round trip from the US), I called Gerry for a chat.
VICE: Hey Gerry, can you tell us about Closing The Books?
Gerry Johansson: Over the years, I made a series of books that all have things in common, but they were created in different places. The first book I made is called America and was released in 1998. Since then, I’ve done one book about Sweden, one about Germany, and one about Kvidinge, which is a community in Småland, Sweden, close to where I live. I also made a book about Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, and one book about the city Pontiac, you know like the car, Pontiac, outside of Detroit.
We’ve heard of it. Do you have a personal relationship with these places?
Not the three small ones. However, the three countries are personal to me. My dad studied in Germany before the war. I was born in 1945, so my entire childhood and everything around that was very influenced by Germany. During my childhood, pretty much all toys were from Germany. It was the place everyone [in Sweden] thought about and referred to outside of Sweden. Then, when I became a teenager, I got really interested in jazz music, so I automatically got interested in the US. And Sweden, of course, is the place where I grew up.
So I get that Kvidinge and Pontiac have something in common with the countries you’ve portrayed, but what about Mongolia?
I guess you can call it a weird coincidence. I was making a sandwich one morning and a commercial was on about Ulan Bator. So I thought, “That seems fun, I should go.” My way of working isn’t very structured. I just go to places, look at things, and try to figure out what they represent.
Why are there never people in your photographs?
I normally photograph places where there aren’t that many people around, and I like to stay in areas like that as well. I’d rather walk on small streets than big avenues. But they’re all places that humans have created, like a playground, a back street, or a political sculpture.