JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Journal Photobooks (here). Clothbound (22×31 cm), 152 pages, with 86 color and black and white images. Includes drawings and paintings by Stickan Lundgren and texts by the artist in Swedish/English. Design by Jan Rosseel. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)
Comments/Background: In 2011, Swedish artist Katinka Goldberg published her first photo book titled Surfacing, which poetically documented the bond with his mother and looked at how children are shaped by their parents’ worldview. This first book opened a trilogy that deals with identity, trauma, family and belonging. Last year, almost ten years later, Goldberg released the second installment, Bristningar. The title of the book is a Swedish word that can be translated as a break, an explosion, an absence, or something more physical like a puff or a stretch mark. The new series is an attempt to address childhood trauma and deconstruct it. As she “explores the tension between closeness and distance,” Goldberg considers the sense of alienation in her own body.
In Bristningar, Goldberg reconstructs, or rather restores, the world from a child’s point of view; she says she made this book in conjunction with her childhood. To build the story, Goldberg combines painting, drawing and photography, constantly pushing their limits. She uses her own photos and occasionally material from family albums. In her collages, she combines body parts, often rearranging them in new ways, and this process of reassembly leads to healing.
As a photo book, Bristningar is subtly elegant, thoughtful and exciting. It has a pink fabric cover, a reference to the artist’s favorite childhood color. A collage of two faces, slightly recessed, appears in the center, and a fly is placed nearby (insects are a common motif in the artist’s work). Inside, the narrative is constructed by mixing and layering photographs, drawings, collages, text, cut-outs and shorter pages. The text is also very expressive and playfully placed on the pages, adding more emotions and vibrancy. The Swedish translated text appears at the very end of the book, printed on a lighter pink paper.
As the first installment of the trilogy examines Goldberg’s relationship with his mother, the artist’s grandmother is at the center of Bristningar. Goldberg depicts a partial upbringing with his grandmother, a woman who looked completely normal on the surface but carried a lot of chaos inside. As Goldberg mixes and layers childhood writings, collages, paintings and photographs, she creates a visual language that describes a child and a grandmother unable to connect, and this indirect language allows her to tell the story on its own terms. Bristningar works like a diary, with page after page unfolding with the undramatic everyday violence of a child’s life.
The first time we see the grandmother is in a collage – she appears dressed in white clothes and a veil, and is surrounded by a pile of stones mixed with flowers and red shards that look like skin , meat or leaves. This arrangement is paired with a close-up of a dense tangle of hair. The grandmother has a self-satisfied smile looking aside, and this is a case where her face is not hidden or obstructed. A few pages later, a double page combines a small drawing of the artist as a little girl sitting on the ground watching television; this drawing and others in the book were made by the artist’s father-in-law, Stickan Lundgren. Short text appears on the right side of the board, with a portion that reads “my grandma is so huge I can’t stretch my arms around her”. Both are placed on a pink background, slightly different in color.
Throughout the book, Goldberg repeats certain colors and shapes, and creates echoes through the juxtaposition of various visual elements. Her experimentation with text, written from a child’s perspective, is another exciting layer of the book. It functions as a narrative, but also as its own art form. An open purple gemstone showing inner crystals is traced by handwritten text in Swedish (and translated into English), reading “Everything is orange. There are no faces, only taut bones of skin. I run to each figure for help, but everyone is an overwhelming void. Another board pairs an abstract painting with a page that has the same line “Where does all the rage go?” You don’t want to pollute the forest” overlaid again and again.
There is no easy way to read Goldberg’s images. A striking black-and-white photograph shows a woman sitting on a bench – she is holding a baby lion and part of her body is again covered in spots resembling skin, meat or leaves. She is faceless, with hair completely covering her head, so there is no way to connect with her; she is the artist’s grandmother in the 1950s. Another collage shows a portrait of Goldberg’s mother holding and feeding a baby (the artist) with a bottle, and again the face is replaced by a blue cutout, with Grandmother’s snakeskin belt placed above the image like an umbilical cord. Another horizontal photograph shows four people seated on a sofa, but their faces (and the photo in the frame above them) have been replaced by pinkish fragments. Deconstructing and then reworking the images seems to have allowed Goldberg new possibilities to fight against his own internal demons.
The elements of the book are sequenced together creating a certain intuitive rhythm and forming an unpredictable and sometimes disorienting narrative. The book is dynamic and intense, while offering a more restorative and healing element. One of the last photographs shows Goldberg as a child standing outside in a snowsuit, with a board on the wall behind her reading “1 Goldberg” (for the nearby parking space). Perhaps here the story takes a full turn, finding its way to some kind of acceptance. Goldberg says “what’s important is that you work with the substance for so long that it becomes universal and no longer relates to yourself.” Through its emotionally layered content, Bristningar shares the brunt of childhood trauma.
A number of photographers have used the photobook format to share their own personal traumatic experiences. Argentinian photographer Mariela Sancari reconstructed her father’s memories in her photo book Moises (reviewed here). In Ký úc//Memento (review here), Simone Hoang used abstract narrative to reconstruct faded childhood memories while considering their limitations. And more recently Linda Zhengova plumbed the depths of childhood trauma in his book titled Catharsis (reviewed here).
Bristningar is certainly a complex and exciting book to explore. The next and last book, Shumer Alef, will focus on her family’s Jewish roots and the material history of her grandmother who fled to Sweden to escape the Nazis. It will examine how the trauma of war, when not handled properly, can silently pass through generations. Based on what Goldberg has already produced, it will be exciting to see the complete photobook trilogy together.
Collector’s point of view: Katinka Goldberg is represented by the Buer Gallery in Oslo (here) and NW Gallery in Copenhagen (here). His work has yet to find its way to secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for interested collectors to follow.