RIP Sune Jonsson

I'm usually quite sceptical of documentary photographers but I've always loved the work of Sune Jonsson (1930-2009). Of all the potential excuses for a middle-class person documenting the life of a subaltern Jonsson hit an unusually well-rounded jackpot: He came from the village life he was depicting. He lived and worked with the people involved during shoots. He had a clear ideological agenda supporting his subjects. He was preserving a way of life on camera that was fast disappearing. He was a trained ethnologist working for a museum. He famously always insisting on thorough written explanation texts for all his pictures. And he posed people simply and straightforwardly, looking into the camera.

Not to mention, of course, that his work is brilliant - capturing an image of poverty, pride and remnants of pre-modernity in the most remote areas of northern Sweden. There's a surprising tenderness to a lot of shots, a tacit approach to nature and agriculture. And then there are the interiors, that dominate a lot of his shots and speak as much as the people. It's perhaps an irony that this poverty-stricken rural landscape should have such beautiful places indoors, poverty achieving the same scaling-down, preservation and simplification as the most skilled of designers!

Or perhaps it's an aesthetification? The woman in the picture below posed underneath the telephone station that is her labour space, yet with the long-outmoded machine taking up the space with its antiquarian curiosity and bricolage composition. The subjective eye of the photographer, seeking beauty, has posed her there. Photography is a wiley business, and even a master like Jonsson can't escape its burning ethical questions.

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