Last month, renowned Swedish photographer J.H. Engström was awarded the Goldene Letter first prize in the Stiftung Buchkunst Best Book Design From All Over the World competition, the Frankfurt-based art foundation’s annual review. His book La résidence was selected by an independent international jury from a pool of 540 photo books from 31 countries. They call it “a fascinating, eye-opening book – interaction without anything having to be plugged in.”
La résidence is comprised of 29 snapshot-like triptych gatefolds interspersed with his typically restrained pictorials on borderless double-page spreads and brief bursts of diary comments. The selection committee writes:
Nothing dramatic takes place, no lessons are being taught – but as each sequence elicits greater curiosity, for the spectator, browsing and folding his or her way through the pages, a personal individual story emerges, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
The haunting, painterly print “CDG/ JHE #41, 2006,” originally featured in Aperture magazine issue 190, shows his efforts at capturing the atmosphere and ambiance of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, where much of his childhood was spent, and which he calls a “fantasy landscape”. The series from which it comes, CDG/JHE, “provides an almost abstract definition of the existential homelessness and displacement that is at the heart of J.H. Engström’s work—the source of its tenderness and beauty, as well as its power to unsettle,” writes Martin Jaeggi in his commentary for Aperture.
Three other untitled prints are available as part of the Trying to Dance Portfolio, a selection from the series which comprises a photojournalistic ‘diary’ of his life: landscapes, still-lives, self-portraits, and snapshots of friends produce a loose narrative, recording not only the artist’s individual experiences, but a sensitive and provocative engagement with the world at large.
Engström’s tendency to utilize small moments in the construction of wide-reaching narratives is recurring in much of his work.