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Sweden's Nationalmuseum presents photographer Hans Gedda retrospective this winter
Hans Gedda, Andy Warhol, 1976. Photo: Cecilia Heisser/Nationalmuseum ©Hans Gedda.

STOCKHOLM.- An exhibition on the life and work of photographer Hans Gedda opened at Nationalmuseum. Close to 140 works are on show in this retrospective covering the period from the 1950s to the present day. Gedda’s celebrated portraits of Angela Davis, Andy Warhol and Nelson Mandela appear alongside famous Swedes such as Olof Palme, Birgit Nilsson and Jonas Gardell.

Hans Gedda (born 1942) has long been recognized as one of Sweden’s most notable photographers. The retrospective features some 140 works: a mix of portraits, still lifes and semi-documentary images. The sliding scale on which the various genres are classified invites questions such as what constitutes a portrait, and what makes it different from other motifs. The featured works cover Gedda’s long and productive artistic career from the 1950s to date.

Hans Gedda displayed a precocious talent for photography, making his artistic debut while still a teenager. The exhibition therefore includes several early works never previously exhibited. It then traces Gedda’s ongoing development, from his student days with Teddy Aarni in Eskilstuna through the period he spent as assistant to Rolf Winquist at Ateljé Uggla. Gedda’s breakthrough came in 1967 with his portraits of Sara Lidman and Tove Jansson. As one of the dominant components of Gedda’s oeuvre, portraits make up a major part of the exhibition. Visitors will encounter well-known images of Angela Davis, Andy Warhol, Nelson Mandela and famous Swedes such as Olof Palme, Birgit Nilsson and Jonas Gardell. In these portrayals, time and space are non-existent; everything is pared down. Examples of closeness and distance alike can be seen. One of the most innovative works is a portrait of King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Gedda has worked as a commercial photographer all his life, frequently changing perspectives and using the same models in his artistic projects. His pictures of older men with colourful personalities were created in parallel with jeans advertisements. Another example is Gedda’s circus images, commissioned by Cirkus Scott, which mix portrait photography with semi-documentary photojournalism. Since these are among the most fascinating of Gedda’s works, separate sections are dedicated to them.

As far as self-portraits are concerned, Gedda has employed a variety of motifs as reflections of himself. He has appeared both as a white clown and as a still life in the form of scrap metal parts. In this way, he continues to experiment to this day with a sliding scale covering a number of genres such as portraiture, nature studies and still life.

As a historical counterpoint to Gedda’s contemporary imagery, a selection of works from Nationalmuseum’s collection of Caravaggisti and related artists are on show. In early 17th-century Rome, a group of artists devised a radical painting style that was a major influence on baroque art and, later, on photography and cinema. A total of 30 oil paintings by 24 artists from six countries are being exhibited. The artists include famous names such as Jusepe de Ribera, Francisco de Zurbarán and Jacob Jordaens. Nationalmuseum does not own any originals by Caravaggio, on whom these artists modelled themselves, but does possess a high-quality collection of works by his followers. Their distinctive features are strong contrasts between light and dark, dramatic narratives, and real, flesh-and-blood characters. The strong emotional expression and tense, almost aggressive composition have appealed to contemporary filmmakers such as Scorsese, Jarman and Pasolini. Although more than three centuries separate the Caravaggisti from Hans Gedda’s images, they have many features in common.

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