Most of us have experienced what happens when we, for instance, are about to buy a car: you see cars everywhere; all you see is cars. So, why has Gerry Johansson throughout the years kept his eyes on tyres, and photographed them, during his trips around the world to capture the stillness of human environments exempt from human beings? Well, besides from tyres being symbolic implements to reach the world outside the photo frame, a good bet is because he started off as a racing photographer.
Ample evidence for Gerry Johansson’s career in racing photography is given on his own site racepace.se: there you can see most of Johansson’s racing material, from Roskilde Grand Prix that he covered as a sixteen-year-old, through the five Swedish G.P. Formula One races at Anderstorp in the seventies; a decade with intensified Swedish interest in Formula One due to Ronnie Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson. I was present myself at the 1977 race, working as a photo editor for Peter Knopp and AP, but I never met Johansson as far as I can remember. When I reminded Gerry Johansson of this at Facebook on his birthday and wrote about the memory of trying to pan the fast cars in order to get a blurry background, he replied “I was probably a little lazy and tried to photograph them from the front with a decent tele lens.”.
Johansson’s racing photos are straight news photography and not much different from what other sports photographers accomplished at the racing tracks. And some of the action photos are panned. During the Race of Champions at Bands Hatch, 1968, Johansson was obviously confined to the pitlane and there are a lot of cockpit portraits. His coverage was otherwise all inclusive with cars and portraits and pit stops.
But the latest collections on racepace.se, under the heading Historic racing, containing digital colour photos, sometimes folds of from the loyal accounting for participants into a stilleben of a motor, not that fundamentally different from a camera’s innards, like in Falkenberg 2010, or a dark green spruce forest looming over small sport cars darting around the track.
1966, 21 years old Gerry Johansson took part in the “Young photographers” exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm; one of the exhibitors the following year was Anders Petersen with “photos shot in Hamburg”, part of “Café Lehmitz” project published eleven years later. In an interview with Jörg M. Colberg at cphmag.com Johansson talks about the difficulty for his landscape photography to be exhibited in Sweden only fifteen years ago: “Remember, this is Strömholm/Petersen Country.”
Recent Johansson aficionados might be surprised to see A HUMAN in one of Johansson’s pictures in the new book; it shows a man reading a daily, leaning back on the footboard of his truck with a wheel and tyre prominently placed in the photo. It was shot in New York when Johansson was seventeen years old.
“Tyre Choice” is not the first intermezzo in Johansson’s line of landscape photobook production; in 2011, he published his Christmas cards from his home address Höganäs in the book “God jul & gott nytt år önskar Gerry och Ann” (Merry Christmas & Happy New Year wished you by Gerry and Ann).
Gerry Johansson often is presented as a “new topographics” photographer, after the artists that in 1975 figured in the exhibition “New Topographics: photographs of a man-altered landscape” at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, USA. Certainly Johansson 1987 for example had an exhibition called “Så ser det ut!” (That’s the way it looks!), in Helsingborg (I ‘ve got the exhibition poster on the wall in front of me right now), with man-altered landscape photos, but I think his background lies just as much in Swedish landscape photography by mid-war photographers like Mårten Sjöbeck, Lorentz Bolin and, above all, C.G. Rosenberg, whose landscape photos of the Southern Sweden region Halland Gerry Johansson spent two years meticulously copying with a large format camera and tripod, in order to show the changes in that landscape between the thirties and the eighties (“HALLAND trettiotal och åttiotal”, 1985).
Theory and influences aside, don’t forget the jocularity in Johansson’s image making! Like the Pontiac car and car factory, both dominated by majestic trees, inserted on front and back cover of “Pontiac”, 2011.
How much tyre photos Johansson has shot may be judged from the fact that he could afford to bypass, for “Tyre choice”, the meditative photo “Tires and concrete pillar, east of Akehama”, published in “European Eyes on Japan”, 2000, and “Tree, Stone, Water”, 2015.
Tyre Choice by Gerry Johansson can be purchased here.
Torsten Nyström has been working as a newsphoto editor for forty years. He has published hundreds of columns on photography and curated two major exhibitions of Soviet post-war photography (APN). Following that, he helped Mark Holborn make the photobook “Propaganda” (published in three different editions in 2006). In 2013, Torsten Nyström published an essay about the Göttingen publisher Steidl for the catalogue of the exhibition “How to make a book with Steidl”, at Daelim Museum in Seoul.