Black & White, April 2020
It is expected that work presented in this magazine takes seriously its explorations of the nuances of black and white. For many, the consideration is primarily graphic and formal. In Anne De Geer we meet a photographer whose work delves deeply into the metaphoric qualities of light and dark. Unsurprising, perhaps, for a native Swede (born in Stockholm, 1947, living in southern Sweden since 1970), having grown up with an exaggerated conception of seasonal light swings. But the conditions in which her art has matured have lent themselves well to her vision, whichs distills the nuances of shadows.
Serious pursuit of photography had a long gestation period for her. She started photographing landscapes, people and travels with a 35mm Pentax in 1979. It wasn’t until 2003, after completing a darkroom course, that De Geer acquired her first medium-format camera. “After this,” she writes, “there was only Hasselblad for me.” Her commitment to the medium has expanded since that point. She began exhibiting in the 1990s and has had numerous one-person shows in Scandinavia and Europe.
Photographs by Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier- Bresson and Harry Callahan have been influential in her work. She also has a long fascination with Surrealism, particularly the work of René Magritte and Salvador Dali. When she was quite young her parents took her to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where she encountered Dali's 1933 oil on canvas titled The Enigma of William Tell. The painting, which is more than six feet tall and nearly twice as wide, “made a huge impression on me”; qualities of farce, exaggeration and macabre darkness give this work a profoundly unsettling aura. One can easily imagine a child's imagination being wrapped up in (even warped by) this disturbing yet masterful dreamscape.
De Geer describes herself as a “fairly deliberate worker; I try to previsualize and build my photographs,” collaborating with friends and family to construct her evocative images. She arranges clothes, props and settings to capture the best available light which, “especially during our dark winter period,” means that she is typically busy during midday.
Atmosphere, more psychological than meteorological, emerges as a critical element in De Geer’s photographs, which she prints primarily in gelatin silver, typically with the intention of creating exhibitions. She explains that she seeks to capture a combination of “darkness, mystery and dreaminess” in her work. There is an inherent surreality to photography; the lens’ capacity to make the familiar slightly uncanny is at play in this work, which hovers on and just beyond the lip of comprehensibility.
The particular slant of her photography may be best understood in the context of one of the photographer's favorite literary works, Czech writer Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Just as her imagery navigates a struggle between substance and shadow along both literal and figurative lines, Kundera’s novel describes a world in which the lives of young adults play out in tumultuous late 1960s Prague. Kundera explores a spectrum between heaviness, a leaden quality connected to emotional seriousness and absence of vigor, and lightness of spirit consistent with disencumbrance.
De Geer imposes limits on our ability to fully interpret her images. Limits are tantamount to heaviness; the photographic frame constrains our vision. Shadows enable us to see substance in her images. Yet the imaginative transport that a photograph enables restores lightness in the form of inconsequentiality, ethereality and transparency. Frameworks like the bedframe and the bustle hoops embrace emptiness and grasp at absence. Their skeletal geometry enhances the irrational agenda. Staring a few extra moments at these images ushers us into a dreamscape.
Where does truth play into this equation? Kundera offers an elliptical answer that might well apply to Anne De Geer's images, or to the medium of photography as a whole: “On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.”
— George Slade
Black & White Magazine, April 2020