Martin Bogren‘s August Song is a lovely collection of half frame, black & white photographs taken at rural dances in the Swedish countryside, and was the Charcoal Book Club photobook of the month for April 2020.

Until I read up a bit on August Song and its making, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. The photographs are mostly soft, gentle things, blurred by the wind or by movement, and have something of an elegiac feel, to me. There’s a sadness or a longing in them to my eye, and something of foreboding. To find that they were made in these little rural, pop up dance halls in Sweden, well, if I hadn’t read it, I might never have realized.

So much for my photobook view/review skills…

But, really, in book form, at decent size, the pictures often sort of dissolve, melt, and some of the characters (and the images themselves) feel to me like something out of a David Lynch film: they grimace, enraptured in the dance; they preen and flirt and wait, bored, lonely, or happy to just watch. The blur and grain from the half frame format, the soft printing in black & white, and the format of the book itself, everything enfogged, shrouded in the mists, of time or memory or whatever. It’s lovely, if also a bit creepy and unsettling somehow.

Having just come off of reviewing three books about war (Attention Servicemember, Sorry for the War, and Disco Night Sept 11), I grabbed August Song hoping it would soothe the feelings of aggression and anxiety I had, and perhaps the war footing I was on colored my view.

And in web sizes, on Bogren’s website, the pictures absolutely read as summertime dances out in the country, and, then, looking back again through the book it becomes clear, though I still feel this undercurrent of something sinister throughout.

In a review for The Washington Post, Kenneth Dickerman quotes Caroline Benichou (from Michael Grieve article in the British Journal of Photography) observation that the series is “…an evocative allegory of the urgency to live before everything is consumed…” and I think that about sums it up. And therein lies the foreboding: the dance is going to end, the lovemaking in the grass behind the dancehall is fleeting, summer evenings will give way to winter.

Live! Live! We don’t have much time left… I wonder if that’s what I find in Lynch too…

Concept
Content
Design

The more time I spend with August Song the more I come to appreciate it. It’s really a great book, and I should look into Bogren some more. Fun stuff, if somewhat hard to come by. Overall, I rate it 4.5 stars.

August Song remains available from Charcoal Books, but seems to be unavailable elsewhere, though selections are available, in miniature, on Bogren’s website, along with his other works. Be sure to check it out. Good stuff.

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