Interview with photographer Micke Berg
591 Photography: Your exhibition "Café del Mare" will open soon at gallery ikon. You have called it "an ordinary Greek exhibition". What do you mean?
Micke Berg: I thought it appropriate to call it trivial, as some of the images are of a kind that I have never published before - or would never have published.
591: You have published many books and exhibited your work extensively through the years. Is there any one special book or exhibition that you would like to highlight that has meant much to you in your development as a photographer?
MB: Many think my book and exhibition, “Stockholm Blues”, was important. I do not agree. The pictures were very good, very strong, but I prefer pictures that show more of a positive life. So I think my best work in recent years has been pictures like the ones in the book, “Erstagatan”, in which I mix text and images. The story has to be told along with the photographs.
591: When did you find out that you had this creative inner force and at what stage did you feel confident that it would be sufficient to make a living with.
MB: I discovered it in the early seventies; let’s say 1972, when I was 23 years old. I made a choice not to have a permanent job, and to make a living from my pictures and adventures. The reason was that I had simply gone mad having a permanent job; not being able to do what I wanted and that is a terribly good momentum. I have never bothered much about the “artistic”, but more about having a life, a life that is an adventure.
591: What inspires you today? Do you think the ways you approach your photography and your motives have changed? The Swedish photographer Anders Petersen said in an interview that he was terrified of becoming inflexible and not being able to take the pictures he wanted. He had seen photographers in later years becoming more calculating and taking "smart" images and he did not want to end up like that.
MB: Yes, Anders is right. Personally, I think that he is pushing his argument a bit too hard, twisting his images a bit too much, and yet he is the photographer that I feel most acquainted to in this country. For myself, I have changed my lifestyle, my conduct as a photographer. I have given up the life of drinking, hunting at night, and going away for months to make pictures.
I am looking for a different form, more meditative, but I hope that my pictures will still hold a good quality. I use text in combination with pictures a lot more today. It helps me when the pictures cannot manage by themselves. The text is easier to handle, and you can get very personal and self-revealing.
591: You have said that your greatest source of inspiration is literature, especially Henry Miller. How would you describe this special relationship between literature and photography?
MB: Taking pictures is a way to keep moving, to get involved. I am incredibly focused as a photographer. I can feel the smell of a picture - when it is not happening I will not move a limb or take any pictures. Afterwards when writing about the photos, I stop and reflect, remembering dialogues and together it becomes a story. I like text with images a lot, texts like Henry Miller writes.
591: You sometimes talk about the darkness in the picture, could you develop what you mean by that?
MB: Darkness in the picture could be in the technique. I like pictures with blacks, like Koudelka. Secondly, I like images that show sadness, a feeling of loneliness, desolation but still hope. I think the blacks; the darkness is very much me, because I experience a lot of desolation and loneliness.
591: You have in recent years begun to show colour pictures. Have you always photographed in colour as a “sideshow” or is it an added value that comes with switching to digital photography?
MB: It's just that I run the digital and colour along with black and white – they sometimes reinforce each other. Otherwise, I am quite tired of faded colour photos taken with flash.
591: You like the digital technology and have written: "Digital cameras have a big advantage. The pictures are basically ready to watch at the same moment they were taken. It's like being a musician. You can participate in the moment with pictures; show them the moment you take them. It is a great advantage for communication."
An objection may be that the speed and the ability to publish photos to the world on the Internet leads to photography, as an art form, not being taken seriously. Taking into consideration that the same reasoning was at hand when George Eastman provided U.S. amateurs with cameras in the late 1800s, what do you think about this?
MB: I turned digital for economic reasons. I could not afford the lab, scanner, etc; my finances are stretched all the time. Still it drives me crazy that they have hardly invented a digital camera that really works, or a photo paper that does not look like shit and does not cost a fortune. I don’t give a damn about if photography is art or not. The only thing that interests me is that I can tell my stories, that I may live my dream, that I can take care of myself and survive to do my stuff.
591: Your photos often seem spontaneous, captured in flight and seldom arranged while many other photographers are more accurate and planning. How do you explain this?
MB: In the street it is about being alert, to find something. I am looking for something and I am always trying to put me in all kinds of photographic situations – it has to become an expression that feels familiar and “right”. I want the image to fit my attitude toward it all.
591: Ingmar Bergman once said 'everything you do is a portrait of yourself'. Does this apply with you?
MB: The older I get, the greater my sorrow and my loneliness shines through in my pictures, so I guess it applies.
591: You admire Christer Strömholm and consider him to be the greatest Swedish photographer of all time. Why?
MB: First, he took very beautiful, silent images. Secondly, I liked his lifestyle. Thirdly, he was a good friend.
591: Which other photographers have inspired you and inspire you still?
MB: In Sweden, I only feel real community with Anders Petersen. There are a few other photographers, but none of them really touch my soul. I like Bresson, Koudelka, the early Danny Lyon, though I'm looking for a hybrid. A photographer that influences me through his/her photos and personal text, and it is a terrible thing to say, but it must be said: I myself am my biggest inspiration.
591: What do you think of documentary photography, photojournalism? What is the role of documentary photography today?
MB: I like photojournalism, documentary, it is the same thing. Strömholm’s comment about transsexuals was, as an example, a photographic and political note. Magnum was based on a political idea, my pictures, Mullvaden, Skogsnäs, Stockholm Blues, etc., are all political statements. The political statement is of vital importance in my work.
591: Your blog is often about social, economic and political issues. What role can photography play in raising public awareness of injustices, inequality, political oppression, poverty, etc.? Or should photography not interfere in politics? Should the politicians do the politics and photographers do the photography?
MB: Take a photographer, Sudek, his pictures of Prague. To me, they are about beauty and politics. It is a description of a city, a state, something that can be sought after. A photographer, who only photographs, is in my opinion, not very clever.
About the exhibition at galleri ikon
Text about "Stockholm Blues" by Nina Lekander
Website - Micke Berg
All photos © Micke Berg
Interview by Ulf Fågelhammar with thanks to Rhonda Prince and Thomas Håkansson