Jesse’s Book Review – “October 2016: Fear of Leaving” by JH Engström

Jesse opines on the latest energy-infused work of 2015 Leica Oskar Barnack Award winner JH Engström.

October 2016: Fear of Leaving is a photo book by JH Engström. The name comes from a clever release program that only saw a 48 hour online exclusive release on the Morel books website. So apologies now, its value has since went up and is difficult to obtain….but what fun… a rare Swedish photo book! A knee jerk reaction would be to the similarities in Japanese photo books that are released in all sorts of limited edition schemes as of late since the world recognition and subsequent interest in them has increased. The overall style of October 2016 even harps back to 60s Japanese Provoke-era as most of the photos are out of focus and blurry, and trying to ascertain any individual significant photos would be hard as it becomes about the overall atmosphere. BUT while at the turn of the mid-century, in photography with American photo influence reigning supreme, Swedish photographers actually looked to their fellow Europeans and in particular the German photo movement Subjektive Fotografie that absolutely loathed common place and merely beautiful photos for something more like an explosion of the norms in favor of experimentation and ideas…even if not fully realized.

Carrying on for those who have been paying attention this is the now the third of what will likely be four Swedish photo books through which I want to paint a summary (I mean it modestly) of the country’s photography. Been living here for two months and been curating a gallery here through the next quarter at least until I return to Tokyo in summer 2019. Engström, for me at least, represents the better of the third generation of Swedish photography. Now this is rough, but the first generation I would consider as everything leading up to Christer Strömholm who co-founded the highly influential Fotoskolan academy in Stockholm in 1962. The second generation would be those who attended or learned photography while this school existed, last photo book review in Lars Tunbjörk is a great example of that. Color more modern, aesthetic yet social. The third generation were those who learned in one of the art programs from the early 90s in either Konstfack (live 10 minutes from now) or the University of Gothenburg’s film and photo program. Engström comes from the latter and represents the more artistically ambitious out of these two school programs. Most graduates, and I am admittedly bias, represent more commercial ambitions. Among the most famous photographers from there are more digital/photoshop and the best out of these is most known for shooting hands in the iPhone commercials.

And here is Engström. With the release and photo layout it is a lot more curated then any of the other photographers I have reviewed till now. The photos themselves are provocative with nudes, dead animals, landscapes, and human anatomy imagery. It is all quite raw and confrontational for something going back to the German movement….subjective. It offers a mix of new and archival material shot between his home of Sweden and where he grew up in Paris. From all of this, it comes off rather collage like. Really again going back to the german movement it is more of an experiment, that is more commodity than content. It does evoke its desired atmosphere so much so that examining any single photo would be redundant.

Again the book is very rare. Expect to pay around 350-400 USD if you can find it. I borrowed this from Rickard Falk (whose Visual Interview you can check) and thought it would be a fun compare and contrast to more Moriyama styled photo books but it is quite different….European really, which was certainly something new since I am mostly reviewing Japanese photo books for the JCH website.

Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
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