Let me take you on a trip to Sweden. June is such a special month there. Nature is at its best: everything blooms and flourishes and even the night sky is light as day. This journey is thanks to a 1970s pantsuit – just like the mittens found amongst the textiles I inherited from my mother. Now the colours and pattern of the fabric spark the memory.
A big celebration
Children in Sweden have ten weeks of summer holiday. Early June is the start of an endless sea of freedom. The last day of school brings the old to a close while the new is nowhere in sight. Skolavslutning, end of the school year day, is an important part of Swedish intangible cultural heritage, comparable to the Lieux de Memoires described by the French historian Pierre Nora. It is a characteristic example of a tradition that appeals to collective consciousness, at the same time a memory and history.
Even nowadays, the traditional connection between church and state is extremely evident during this celebration. Swedish flags wave throughout the country and everywhere people sing psalms with a summer theme. The school (or sometimes the church) is decorated with flowers and birch branches and children put on their new summer clothing.
In the prettiest outfit
Back to the pantsuit in vibrant colours – trousers and a jacket my mother made for me, entirely according to my wishes. It turned out better than I could have imagined. A shiver ran up and down my spine when I saw it again. Once more I experienced the anxious feeling I had during that short walk to school.
Will they laugh at me? Or ooh and aah in utter admiration?
Fortunately, it all went well! For me, this garment signifies happiness and relief. Not so much because the school year was successfully completed, but largely because this creation of my mind was not ridiculed but admired.
Thank you Elma, you were great!
The memory in the image
As a photographer I’m now faced with a challenge: how do I make my memory visible and relevant for others?
It took a few years of waiting before I found a girl with similar proportions to mine at that time. Here you see my godchild Elma posing as a fashion model for the first time. Again, I was struck by the power of memory. My body from days gone-by came to life, long and lanky. I was a child who still lived in her own fantasy world. For me, the tableau of that day had to do with nature. I wanted to embody it.
At the same time, I was somehow aware of the contradictions inherent in being a woman. On the one hand strong as a bear and fast as lightning, on the other hand painfully uncertain about the possibilities of ever moving with any elegance. This is the story at the heart of the image, an uneasiness that is still relevant today. The potential the girl perceives for her female identity is much broader in scope than the predominant images of women.
I’m also curious about your memories. You undoubtedly have fine moments from the past that you strongly feel.
Do you have a personal way of expressing this?
This article was first published in June 2019.