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August Strindberg, Photographs from Gersau (Fotografi album. Tolv Impressionst Bilder), 1886. Binded Album
August Strindberg, Four Portraits of August Falck (Fyra porträtt av August Falck), 1908. Strindberg Museum, Stockholm
While his paintings concentrate on the landscape, Strindberg’s photographs show his desire to grapple with the human psyche. When living in Gersau spa in Switzerland in 1886 with his first wife Siri von Essen and their children, Strindberg embarked on a series of self-portraits. They are striking images showing him in his different roles: writer, folk musician, family man or man-about-town. There is a touch of narcissism here, but also humour and a hint of anxiety. In an age where photographic portraiture could be stale and conventional, these images have a freshness and wit far ahead of their time.
His desire to capture the spiritual essence of his subject led to some ambitious experiments. Strindberg distrusted the glass lens of the camera: he felt that it distorted the truth. So he built his own pinhole camera, his Wunderkamera, which functioned without a lens. In 1906 he attempted a series of what he called Psychological Portraits. These were long exposures, to allow the sitter to express more of his inner life and personality. He made several portraits of himself, but also attempted other sitters such as the theatre director August Falck. These portraits are life-size, to help convey the physical presence of the sitter. As he said, "I don’t care about how I look, but I want people to see my soul, and it shows up better in these photographs than in others."