Photography: Sune Jonsson

Sune Jonsson was one of Sweden’s most celebrated photographers. The snapper, who died in 2009 aged 78, spent his life combining his skills as a field ethnologist with photographic portraiture – a pairing that resulted in extraordinary documentary images of people in rural Sweden.

Tomorrow an exhibition of Jonsson’s work, And Time Becomes A Wondrous Thing, opens in London. The show includes some of Jonsson’s most famous works from his 1959 book The Village with the Blue House, which was filled with evocative portraits of Jonsson’s neighbours the remote village of Nyaker where he was born.

Jonsson’s work speaks of his interest in folklore and fairytale, and despite being more documentary than constructed, there is a crystal clear narrative quality: the elderly grave digger mopping his brow; the painter running across the road after a narrow miss with an old army tank; the newlywed couple dancing alone, still dressed in full regalia, the bride’s head drooping toward his shoulder.

Each picture has a carefully nuanced back story. This can be signified by the abandoned bicycle in the background, an engraved headstone reading “H. G Carlssons Family Grave”, or the portrait of Christ held in the lap of the austere-looking Johan Engman.

Jonsson’s photographs illustrate an era that would soon disappear, and, as little as 50 years on, whose memory could not seem further removed from thecontemporary city-life that has grown up in its place. Time is a central theme within Jonsson’s work; his beautifully still portraits appear to capture his subjects’ awareness of its steady passage around them.

He worked mostly in Västerbotten, as an ethnologist at the Musuem of Västerbotten but, while on a trip to New York in 1956, he became particularly interested in the work of the American Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers such as Walker Evans who documented the great depression of the 1930s. Jonsson’s images of Swedish farm. You can see Evans’ influence, in particular, in Jonsson’s melancholy portraits of people within the community where he lived and worked.

And Time Becomes A Wondrous Thing is at PM Gallery & House from 26 November to 7 January 2012

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