The fifty photographs collected in Passenger were taken in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), the birthplace of the filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921–1992). However, Martin Bogren did not want to immortalize the capital of the West Bengal state, let alone India. This was not a denial of his experience: he was indeed in Kolkata after a stay in Dhaka (Bangladesh), but he decided to end, at least for the moment, with a certain idea, albeit chimerical, of the landscape of photography. This is similar to his decision to abruptly end a career as a professional photographer dedicated mostly to the music scene, and start anew. He was thirty-nine. Now he is now fifty-four, and splits his time between Malmö, Sweden, and Berlin, Germany.
Passenger is Bogren’s tenth book. His earlier publications included Tractor Boys, about teenagers driving customized Volvos, and August Song, about formal dances in a rather feverish Swedish countryside. Both books garnered attention from critics and photography lovers alike. Martin Bogren, who tends to privilege the light of summer dusk, then committed himself to something less documentary, less black & white. Not as a provocation, but as a way of questioning his status as author and the medium of photography, which never ceases to surprise (despite the growing tendency for photography to become a cultural industry, like cinema).
Without offering a clear answer, let alone a key to the future, Passenger traces an interior narrative. It takes place in Kolkata, but could probably take place in any other city at any other time. How to find one’s bearings? This is one of Martin Bogren’s questions, the existential crossroads where our lives — his and ours, and those of many strangers — intersect in search of an elsewhere. What he seeks to see is: “Beauty for its own sake, without the need for analysis or mastery.” He also writes: “In the meantime, we are just passing through.”
Passenger is not a daydream for insomniacs. Rather, it presents itself as a series of possibilities, a slow movement that sometimes picks out a dog or some jackdaws (“and their blind cry,” Pasolini), sometimes takes in bodies sitting on the floor, totally immobile or agitated, sometimes even bodies that have vanished, like the ghost this jacket is patiently waiting for on its hanger. Some photographs are in color, and yet seem faded. They are very moving, like childhood memories.
This tendency to spiritualized color is part and parcel of the pleasure of discovering Bogren’s enigmatic universe. His editor David Fourré concurs: “Martin’s work has evolved towards things that leave room for the unspeakable, for bitterness … We envisioned Passenger as a reading experience, very free, untethered … Thanks in part to the paper we chose — fine, sensuous paper, which, because of its transparency, allows for softness.” This softness resonates with the solitude of the photographer and with slightly vertiginous serenity that belongs only to India.
By Brigitte Ollier
Brigitte Ollier is a journalist based in Paris. She has worked for over thirty years for the newspaper Libération, where she contributed to the fame of the column “Photographie.” She is the author of several books about a few memorable photographers.
Martin Bogren, Passenger, éditions Lamaindonne, 92 pp., €35.
Martin Bogren is represented by the Vu’ Gallery
To learn more about Satyajit Ray.
Among his short stories, my favorite is Ashmanja Babu’s Dog, in Satyajit Ray, Collected Short Stories, Penguin, 2020.
Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Scent of India, trans. David Clive Price, CreateSpace, 2012.