Sune Jonsson: No Nostalgia in Sune Jonsson: Life and Work, 2014
In 2012, Professor Val Williams embarked on a study of the work of Swedish documentarist Sune Jonsson, who explored the lives of smallholders and farmers throughout Sweden, but most particularly in the remote north of the country. Sune Jonsson's many books, which he wrote and illustrated with his own photographs, are internationally renowned. Specifically The Village with the Blue House and The Great Move, both published in the 1960s, expressed his powerful interest in the history of the north, its declining population, and lives lived on the edge of poverty.
Val Williams worked extensively in the Sune Jonsson archives, which are held at the Vasterbottens Museum in Umea. She also read extensively around the social commentaries of the time, with particular reference to the novelist Vilhelm Moberg and the radical historian Ivar Lo -Johansson.
Sune Jonsson (1930–2009) occupies a unique place in photographic history. He produced work which explored and made visible the very private lives of the inhabitants of Sweden’s most remote regions, producing an image of the northern countryside, which persists, despite Sweden’s post-war emergence as a modern and sophisticated society. In the sparsely populated ‘inland’ of the north, as well as across the farming regions of Sweden, he chronicled the continuing struggle of men and women with weather, season and soil, intimated at the difficulties imposed by isolation and struggle, and injected into this his own politics and social concerns, as well as a homage to a rich and complex past. He described a rural environment settled in impermanent, transient ways, revolving around clearings made in dense forest, self-built houses, a few animals and crops – subsistence living on inhospitable land, its inhabitants characterised by both resilience and resignation.
Sune Jonsson’s work is represented by, but does not entirely consist of, the extended series of twenty-five photo books which he produced during his long career, beginning with Byn med det blå huset (The Village with the Blue House) in 1959 and concluding with And Time Becomes a Wondrous Thing, 2007. From this long series, all but three – Bilder av Kongo (From Congo Brazzaville), published in 1965, Bilder från Bornholm (Pictures from Bornholm), 1967, and Prag augusti 1968 (Prague August 1968) – documented the people and environments of rural Sweden. For Jonsson, the photo book was an entity in which his documentation of a small village, a church community or the declining settler community in the inland, was entirely enclosed. He wrote the text, interviewed the people he photographed, and edited the contents. His texts are a combination of fact and fiction – all his work centered on real life – the actual – but, with the written word, he interwove a narrative which was idiosyncratic and poetic, with a documentary of oral testimony and fact. These books are the clearest and most available testament to Sune Jonsson’s photographic, literary and social interests. In the Sune Jonsson archive, housed in Västerbottens Museum in Umeå, a richer and more complex picture of Sune Jonsson’s methodology and preoccupations emerges