Martin Bogren, Tractor Boys

JTF (just the facts): Published by Dewi Lewis (here) in 2013. Hardbound, 60 pages, with 39 black and white photographs. Includes an essay by Christian Caujolle. (Spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Martin Bogren’s Tractor Boys has been sitting on my book stack for months now. I keep taking it down, looking at it, putting it back, and repeating the cycle, trying to get my head around what makes these disarmingly simple pictures function so successfully. The book chronicles a bunch of teenage kids in Sweden, who have brought their tractorcars (old automobiles converted for farm use, cranked down to meet the laws, and then souped up to break them) to empty lots on the outskirts of town, where they do screeching donuts, skid around, and generally show off for each other, particularly the girls who stand around watching. At its core, it’s a quintessential adolescent activity, steeped in boredom and loose jangling energy that needs an outlet.

Bogren’s black and white photographs aren’t crisp and specific. Instead, they revel in an atmospheric mist of blur and grain, letting shadows dissolve into darkness and smoke evaporate into thin wisps. The immediacy of the high speed, nearly out of control motion is balanced by the quiet slumber of boys jumbled together like puppies, mouths open and arms stretched out. Car windows let us see in to swaggering faces and stolen intimate moments (a nuzzle, a cigarette, a far away stare), a flare of light blinding us for just a second. Something restless and ephemeral is happening in this fading obscured light, a kind of rite of passage, and we watch the spinning and racing with an elemental curiosity.

But as I’ve let this book steep over the past few months, I’ve come to regard the tiny details Bogren has captured as the real joy to be found here. It’s the deer in the headlights heightened awareness of the boy driving, trying not to look nervous. It’s the girl watching out the corner of her eye, looking but not wanting to be seen doing it, mesmerized and a little bit afraid. It’s the extended, muscled arm of a confident driver, giving the fans a wave in the tire smoke. It’s the hasty kiss, with stringy hair falling all over the place. It’s the conversation sitting on the back of the truck bed, indirect and awkward, but hoping. Bogren has gotten inside and trapped the realness before it could float away into the summer air, and he’s bottled many of the uneven subtleties of teenage life with surprising grace and tenderness.

These something sticky about the way these photographs resonate, at least for me; I keep getting drawn back into the narrative, not wanting to let the scene evaporate, even though it has the familiar sense of having been seen before. Maybe I won’t put this book on the shelf just yet; I’ll let is sit here a while longer, so I can fall back into its charged but nurturing atmosphere a few times more.

Collector’s POV: Martin Bogren is represented by Fotografiska in Stockholm (here). His work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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