I came across Peggy’s work through a instructor at ICP and I was immediately taken by the softness of the mood in her portraits. I spent some time talking to her about the project “Morning Dip” and her upcoming exhibition at Fotografiska, Sweden.
Q. Do you consider yourself as a portrait photographer?
I don’t necessarily consider myself portrait photographer but perhaps I am just more drawn to photographing people. I enjoy both the challenge and the interaction.
Q. How did you come to shoot the “Morning Dip”. What were the motivations and explorations involved in making those photographs?
What began as a project photographing Swedes wearing bathrobes, in the small coastal village of Torekov, evolved into a deeper examination of my own heritage and relationship to a country where I lived as a child and now spend every summer. In Sweden, Torekov is known for it’s local pier, “Morgonbryggan”, so called for the popular tradition of a daily morning dip in the sea. (I have been both a participant and observer of this ritual, which can be both solitary and social). There are also unwritten codes of behaviour associated with this activity, including the selection of one’s wardrobe. The more faded and worn out they are, the better. The age of the bathrobe is also a sign of just how long someone’s family has been summering in Torekov. Even though I speak Swedish and have spent many summers in Torekov, sometimes I still feel like an outsider.
Typically one bicycles down to “Morgonbryggan” (the local pier), wearing a bathrobe over one’s bathing suit, takes a quick swim and then bicycles home, usually stopping at the bakery to pick up “bullar” (buns) for breakfast. And it’s not uncommon to see people throughout the day wearing their bathrobes.
For this project I decided that I need to create a ritual around the ritual of the bathrobes. I photographed the portraits at the same time and in the same place every morning. Yet, no portrait was planned ahead of time.
After a while, it felt like that the subjects came to me, even the ones who dismissed me at first. I just waited on the pier with my camera.
It also helped that people were curious about the large format camera. The whole process and personal interaction with the subjects became an important part of this project. Since I was photographing with film, there was also the uncertainty of not knowing how they turned out. And I took only one photograph of each person.
Q. When I saw the images for the first time from the series, they reminded me of Rineke Dijksta’s images from the beach. Yet your images are unique in their familiarity and comfort towards the camera. What was your intent with every portrait which was made?
I only knew a few of my subjects. Most of them were strangers. But the fact that I am both Swedish & American (and I spend time in this village each summer) helped me. I felt like they trusted me. But it took time. What started out as a documentation of bathrobes soon became a social study with emerging patterns and even vague political undertones. What does it mean to be part of a culture? How important are shared rituals and traditions?
Maybe it’s part of a connection we are all looking for.
Q. With your earlier work made with the subway readers, I felt there was a exploration of silent rituals, personal acts which go unnoticed by the world. Do you feel it was an emotion extended into the “Morning Dip”?
Yes, there is an emotional connection between the two projects. And both are dealing with typology and ritual. And they are both exploring the idea of personal actions in public spaces.
It’s not something I thought about in the beginning. It only became more clear over time. Yet the process is entirely different with each one.
With the subway series, I took the same subway every day, using my iPhone and photographing without the subjects knowledge. With the bathrobe series, each subject had to stand for a few minutes while I focused and adjusted the camera. They actively and knowingly participate in the project.
Q. Lastly, do tell us about the exhibit you recently had and also if the work is going to be exhibited again anytime soon?
I had a little exhibition in Sweden this summer – in the same village on the west coast of Sweden where the photographs were taken last summer. 21 images will now be a part of an annual autumn salon show at Fotografiska (Höstsalongen) in Stockholm which opens Sept 18th and runs through November 22nd.
If you’re interested in more information, please do visit Peggy’s website here. Both of the Peggy’s projects mentioned above are in progress and I would definitely encourage bookmarking her page. Also, if you’re looking to read up more about Rineke Dijksta, there is wonderful interview with her on Popphoto.