“These are images from another time…These are images of people whose lives I shared…These are images of women – biologically born as men- that we call ‘transsexuals’. As for me, I call them ‘my friends of Place Blanche’. This friendship started here, in the early 60s and it still continues.” Christer Strömholm, 1983.
Christer Strömholm (1918-2002), born in Stockholm, is a prominent figure in the history of Swedish photography. His pictures from the early fifties consist of sharply focused black and white compositions of walls, shadows and clear-cut interiors. While periodically living in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s he developed a style more in tune with street-photography and it was at this time that he made his famous portraits of transvestites and transsexuals at the Place Blanche. This particular oeuvre of work was massively progressive, documenting a marginalised group of society who did not fit into the social strata of Paris at the time.
This April the Michael Hoppen Gallery is delighted to be exhibiting images from Strömholm’s eminent body of work Les Amies de la Place Blanche. These famous portraits of transvestites depict individuals living on the periphery of society, enduring ‘the roughness of the streets,’ however there is a delicacy and poignancy that emanates from Strömholm’s portraits in contrast to their gritty setting. In his book of the same title, Strömholm describes this intimate collection of pictures as memoires of his daily life, taken whilst living in Pigalle, as he immersed himself in the lifestyle of these ‘night birds’.
Strömholm settled in the same hotels as his subjects, adopted their rhythms, their private environments, shared their early afternoon breakfasts and was even present on the streets as they solicited clients. This closeness and the tenderness he felt towards his subjects is always evident in his beautifully composed pictures; he did not judge his subjects and there is an palpable sense of respect for his ‘friends of Place Blanche.’ The softness of the images is key, Strömholm shot mostly at nighttime always using ambient light, and unlike Brassai, he found using flash was too intrusive. The overall effect is that the pictures have a sumptuous and suggestive quality mirroring the people in the frame. At the heart of these photographs, is the search for self-identity, an innately human quest that allows the viewer to connect with the subjects and share the perspective of the photographer. This ability is surely the sign of a great image maker.