Sweden’s Foremost Portrait Photographer


Hans Gedda, the internationally renowned photographer from Flen in Sweden, who is known for his unique portraits, takes center stage with the exhibition Nära ögat, opening at Fotografiska, Stockholm on August 26. Experience Sweden’s foremost portrait photographer and view his immortalization of Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson and Andy Warhol among others.

Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, Andy Warhol, and Nelson Mandela are just some of the icons immortalized by his camera. This autumn, the exhibition Nära ögat (Close to the Eye) brings together well-known portraits with his private and more rarely seen photographs.

Related: Swedes to Open the London Museum of Photography

Sweden’s Foremost Portrait Photographer
Tove Janson portrait by Hans Gedda.

Nära Ögat with Hans Gedda
Hans Gedda received his first camera at age 12, and immediately knew that he would become a photographer. About the same time, he found out from his school doctor that he was color blind, but he wouldn’t let that stop him.

Today, he is not only one of Sweden’s foremost photographers but also internationally famous for his 1976 portrait of Andy Warhol and his 1990 portrait of Nelson Mandela.

Just a few weeks after the photographer’s 80th birthday, the new exhibition Nära ögat opens at Fotografiska with over 200 photographs from throughout his career. These intimate portraits lay bare some of our most famous Swedes, including Astrid Lindgren, Cornelis Vreeswijk, Evert Taube, Lena Nyman, Jonas Gardell, Queen Silvia, and many more.

Related: World’s Best Photographic Museum

Sweden’s Foremost Portrait Photographer
Nelson Mandela by Hans Gedda.

Internationally famous
Nära ögat brings us even closer to the artist Hans Gedda through many of his private photographs and recordings, where he describes his encounters with his subjects.

“It is overly obvious as a portrait photographer that life is very short. It feels like it has only been two weeks since I photographed someone, when it’s actually been 20 years. I long to see many of them, like Tove Jansson, Sara Lidman, and Monica Zetterlund. It was odd having lived in little Flen and having read about many of these people in schoolbooks, to suddenly stand face to face with the person and take a photograph. Like Vilhelm Moberg. I went out on the town with him for a whole evening,” says Hans Gedda.

Hans Gedda was recognized with the prestigious international World Press Photo Award for his portrait of Nelson Mandela, who had just been released after 27 years in prison.

The genius from Flen
Gedda’s photographs are basically always black and white, with strong contrasts between light and dark, regardless of whether he is portraying royalty, great artists, prime ministers, or writers. With his distinctive imagery, he has become an icon for many in the world of photography and art. But even with epithets like “The genius from Flen” and “Sweden’s foremost portrait photographer,” he takes such tributes in stride.

“I have photographed Ingemar Stenmark several times and I like his approach: ‘It’s just a

Sweden’s Foremost Portrait Photographer
Evert Tabube by Hans Gedda.

matter of getting on with it.’ I feel that way too. I pick up the camera and it’s just a matter of getting on with it. And hope chance helps along the way. People ask ‘How do you bring out the inner soul of a person,’ but I read an interview with Giacometti where he was asked the same question and answered ‘The person’s inner soul? I’m busy with what’s on the outside.’ And that really is the truth, it is no more pretentious than that,” says Gedda.

Sweden’s Foremost Portrait Photographer
Astrid Lindgren by Hans Gedda.

Experience something extraordinary
Nära ögat also shows a more private and less frequently seen side of Hans Gedda. Part of the exhibition focuses on his more artistic explorations, like rarely exhibited still lifes, colorful photographs, and collages. While many of his portraits have been commissioned assignments, Gedda has also felt it important to continue to take photographs privately.

“This is the advice I give to younger photographers: never stop taking private photos, because once you do, it’s over. I have noticed this in colleagues of the same age who no longer take any private photos and only take photos in work. They run out of energy, lose interest in photography. Taking photographs privately is one of the things I enjoy doing here in the country. There aren’t any people like Cornelis or Taube passing through, so I must be content with photographing skulls out in the woods.”

Sweden’s Foremost Portrait Photographer, a press release from Fotografiska

Feature image (on top) Hans Gedda, from SVT Play Documentary

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Journalist, PR and marketing consultant Tor Kjolberg has several degrees in marketing management. He started out as a marketing manager in Scandinavian companies and his last engagement before going solo was as director in one of Norway’s largest corporations. Tor realized early on that writing engaging stories was more efficient and far cheaper than paying for ads. He wrote hundreds of articles on products and services offered by the companies he worked for. Thus, he was attuned to the fact that storytelling was his passion.