in frame inframe interview sweden documentary photography youth vibrant days contemporary black and white film analog 35mm camera kalel koven marcus gustafsson

Interview Marcus Gustafsson

Can you explain in a few lines what your project is about?
This is some kind of diary, a personal journey. It’s my life from when I am 20 years old until today when I am turning 30. These images are of the people around me, my friends. We are searching, wanting to experience. We are drawn to each other. Partying, relationships, boredom, sex, anxiety, love, and sorrow. All that we have had the opportunity to experience and also been forced to live through.

You document a youth by captured moments randomly depending on the events or you had a precise idea of what you wanted?
I had no plan at all at the start. I was just capturing memories for myself and my friends. I’ve been bringing a camera with me all the time more or less and I have always been in these situations as me, Marcus and not as a photographer. It’s important that the camera doesn’t come in the way. I’ve just kept on shooting, gathering memories. I try to leave the thinking process until later when I’m editing the story, that’s when my work really starts growing into something.

« There’s a lot of doubt involved. I’m constantly questioning myself, the world around me and also my own work. »

When did you know it was going to be a real body of work that can speak to a diverse audience?
Oh, that’s really hard to tell. I participated in an exhibition with these images for the first time in 2014 and I’ve been playing around with them since. Showing them in different edits as I continued to shoot, not really knowing what it was about or what it was for. To be honest, I’m not the guy who has those moments when everything becomes clear. There’s a lot of doubt involved. I’m constantly questioning myself, the world around me and also my own work. It’s a constant process. It’s also what I feel is really hard when you’re working with these kinds of personal projects, the balance between what images is important to yourself and which images speak to a diverse audience. But I think that this doubt is what drives me also, it’s in some way about questioning things and myself.

How long did it take you to do this work and what camera did you use?
I’ve been shooting on this project for nearly ten years now. It started during my first year of university back in 2010. And during the last year, I’ve been going through it all, putting together some kind of edit. And right now I can’t tell if I’m really done yet, we’ll just have to see.

I mostly use one of my cheap point and shoot cameras. The most important is that it fits in a pocket and that I just have to think of when to press the shutter. For my personal work, I’ve found this shooting style important, to be shooting instinctively, not be fiddling around and think too much. All of my personal work is shot on film and I really don’t have a good answer to why. In the beginning, I liked the process of shooting film and now I think is mostly because I’ve found a way to get the result that I want and then just stuck to it.

There are beautiful moments of life, of energy, you can see the instinctive shooting of the moment in those moments, is there one or two that marked you?
Mainly I’m inspired by the small moments in everyday life. I‘m not hunting for the most extraordinary situations. It’s about those  small beautiful moments like your newly awake friend in his sleeping bag, the intense moments when two friends comfort each other or two lovers kissing and also the bizarre situations that occur every now and then. These are situations that makes me react and feel something.

But of course, some images leave marks. There is one text in Anders Petersen’s book “Du mich auch” which really stuck to me “After a while, pictures can be memories that burn” and that is so true. I can relate this to the pictures of two guys hugging, which for me is emotionally strong. This was after a friend of ours had just passed away, they had driven up to me as I was living up north at the time. I remember that weekend being different, a lot of silence but the feeling of just wanting to be together. Then there are pictures of old lovers that remind me of things that aren’t anymore and of course and there are several images reminding me of how fun and amazing life really can be. Partying, being totally fucked up, doing stupid shit, skinny dipping in the middle of the night and just laughing together.

Do you think you’ll get a publication (book / Zine) out of this work?
I really want to make a book out of it. I’ve just finished going through all of the images and scanned a larger selection, the next step is to get the images up on the wall to make the final edit. The plan is to have a dummy done during this year(if I feel it’s finished.) The hard question is: when you are documenting your life, when is it finished?

For this project, how did you proceed in your organization, how you manage these photos and how you work with them afterward?
Haha, Organization… I mean I’m a complete mess when it comes to organization. When I started to rent a space in an analog lab after being shot on this project for several years already. I spent more or less the first year there trying to organize my archive. I mean it was total chaos and really embarrassing. I kept a lot of negatives in envelopes of old bills, some were laying around in drawers, I kept finding rolls of undeveloped films in rarely used jackets and bags. It was really good for me to share a space with photographers who are way more professional when it comes to this kind of thing. During this year of organizing my archive there where a lot of phone calls and messages to friends like” Do you remember that night? I think it was in this town maybe and it looks like it’s winter. Do you remember when and where?” Shit, I really wanna say thanks to my friends for having better memory than me and to the people in the lab for helping me with this. This is still a struggle for me to keep being organized but I keep getting better at it. 

And when it comes to how I process and work with my images. I shoot everything on film and develop and scan it myself. It takes a shitload of time but it’s nice to be in control of the whole process. When retouching the images I really care and think it’s important with the details but at the same time, I don’t like being in front of the computer and might be a bit lazy. But I have a good friend who really pushes me to go over the images again and again so, in the end, I spent quite some time on each image. I mean it’s like in the edit of the story, in the retouching you guide the one looking and enhance the feeling you want to express.

Which photographers inspire you?
At first, I was going to mention some big names but after thinking for a while I realized that maybe what inspires me the most is my friends and the people around me who are photographers or creative in any way. To me it’s so inspiring to see people working so hard and going through all that struggle to do what they love and to be able to share that struggle with each other is really important to me, to involve each other in the process. But of course, I’m inspired by established photographers’ works. Anders Petersen has been an inspiration from the beginning, to be able to get that close, to be so vulnerable and to keep shooting as much as he does, it’s really amazing. Simply I’m being inspired by photographers that in some way are working with personal projects, who dares to expose themselves. Just to mention a few, JH Engström, Jacob Aue Sobol, Ken Schles, Nan Goldin, Fatima Abreu Ferreira and many more.

« Photography became a way for me to identify myself with others and finding out things about myself. »

How and when did you start taking pictures? What was your first approach to the camera when you really felt it was made for you?
I picked up the camera as a teenager, at first it was just to shoot my friends for the family album. When it came to deciding how to make a living of it I got the idea that I wanted to be a photojournalist which is my everyday job today. It was during my time at the university I started to shoot on film and documenting my life.

I think I had felt an urge to express myself for a long time, even though I didn’t realize it back then. I grew up with creative people all around me, both my brothers and several friends are musicians and they inspired me, they could express their feelings in music and lyrics. But I had trouble finding a medium that I felt comfortable with. But when I picked up a camera and started shooting my friends, something arose. I realized that it was something more to me than just capturing moments. I have always felt lost, uncertain of who I am and what I want. Photography became a way for me to identify myself with others and finding out things about myself. So here I am ten years later, still shooting what is closest to me and inspires me the most, the people around me, my family and friends.

Your top 5 photobooks?
Vinter- Lars Tunbjörk (I mean capturing the feeling of Swedish winter with his style, it’s just so strong.)
Du mich auch- Anders Petersen (My first photobook, what introduced me to this type of photography and is still one of the books a look in most frequently)
Night walks – Ken Schles (for me it’s about to be present in what you are doing and also beautiful images. )
Oyster- Marco Marzocchi (a really strong personal story and an amazing layout of the book)
Of fading memories- Erhan Can Akbult (a really interesting way of how he looks back on a period of his life and also when it come to the details of the layout and materials in the book)

Interview by Kalel Koven

Photographer’s Links: WebsiteInstagram