Strindberg walked his life researching, he found similitudes and coincidences between matter and energy, he wondered about others' discoveries in fields like psychology, occultism and natural science. August Strindberg, a poet, a scientist, a thaumaturg, ill with an obsessive desire for being recognized as a renovator and a sage; in his obsession he penetrate secrets of many disciplines; he was an erudite but also had terrible mistakes, he was considered by many as pernicious and suffered humiliation; the prototype of a genius, he was only capable of recognizing his own reality and truth.
Walking through his marvelous life he talked about Bohemia, in which he found flowers which seemed images he recognized from his photographic plates; he observed streams of water similar to chemical products he worked with; he perceived above the wind the light from which everything comes from; he intended to penetrate bodies and discover their real interior.
“Je sais très bien que les psychologues ont inventé un vilain nom grec pour définir la tendance à voir des analogies partout, mais cela ne m’effraie guère, car je sais qu’il y a des ressemblances partout, attendu que tout est en tout, partout”. (Inferno) (1)
If we try to understand his genius only through his theatrical career, then we will miss an enormous field of precious information.
Strindberg was also an alchemist who looked for the origins of objects, throughout an internalization process he worked with substances to penetrate any matter and discover its secrets. Strindberg the photographer used photography as a ”medium”, chemical combinations didn’t work, so images, photographic plates, experiments with light, could do the job then. He photographed his face, his rooms, his family, he tried to find the soul in the portrait with a special technique.
“J’ai préparé dans ma tête une histoire qui contient le maximum d’humeurs differentes. Je me raconte l’histoire tout en exposant la plaque et en regardant fixement la victime. sans suspecter ce que la force à faire, sous l’influence de la suggestion, il est obligé de réagir à ces influences qui le pénètrent. Et la plaque fixe l’expression de son visage. Le tout dure exactament trente secondes - mon histoire est minutieusement calculée pour cette durée. En trente secondes j’ai capté le sujet dans sa totalité!” (Quoted by Per Hemmingson)
Strindberg photographed the sky, the clouds, the stars; he used to leave his plates during the night under the effect of the moonlight and the next morning came back to look for changes and tried to explain what he saw there: images of the night, images of what we are not able to see with our eyes, images of the invisible. He subscribed to the crazy idea of extracting part of the soul of others through photography (what other thing could a photographic image be but part of the soul?). He trusted in X Rays as a philosophical way of understanding matter and energy. He detested the delusion of our eyes but he was amazed by them and he used to penetrate that delusion and imagined stories; gelatin plates were a field of illusion, a way of wonders.
“Je suis retourné à mes formations de cristaux que je photographie directement en les copiant de la plaque de verre où la cristallisation se trouve. Ces agrégats, des fleurs de glace, m’ont ouvert des perspectives dans les secrets de la nature qui me stupéfiaient” (Quoted by Per Hemmingson)
My heart always breaks when reading his honest letters, his petitions, his explanations and his furious claims over the incomprehension of others; I have also cried watching his photographs of dark skies and clouds over Stockholm.
As for the soul, when Strindberg discovered psychology, he called it “the unconscious”, and during his long walk of life he bases his research on the supra-natural; having rolled in the sick pleasures of realism and naturalism, his hunger for more pleasure led him to look even deeper or more downward or more inward; later “the others” would call it surrealism: supra-natural was his word.
“C’est donc à moi de jeter la pasarelle entre le naturalisme et le supranaturalisme en proclamant que celui-ci ne constitue qu’un devéloppement de celui’la” (Quoted by Eric Renner)
When he came upon camera theatre where, through actions and words he exposed the world of the soul, of the supra-natural, of the unconscious, the road had been already been traversed by the avatars of exploration; his theatre was and (still is) revolutionary because it came to him as an inevitable result of those failed encounter with alchemy, astronomy, science, philosophy and photography.
“Je cherche la vérité dans la photographie, intensément, comme je la cherche dans beaucoup d’autres domaines.” (Inferno)
Today more than ever I’m fully convinced that to know (and to enjoy even more) Strindberg’s work we have to see and read his “images”.
I received, as a birthday gift from someone who loves me, a small book edited in 1994 by Actes Sud, “L’expérience Photographique d’August Strindberg”, written by Clément Chéroux, with a delicious “anexo” including some short extracts from texts written by Strindberg himself about his photographic experience. At the beginning the book seemed to me a little bit conventional, but when I started to read and to feel Strindberg’s powerful experiences with Photography and his research, those words caused real admiration for Chéroux’s work to awake in me.
Now I can understand why, some years later, and after the book was published, The National Stockholm Museum and Le Musée d’Orsay exhibited a large part of Strindberg’s photographic and painting work (2), without any preamble to his literary and theatrical work but as a unique painter and photographer.
(1) I’ve decided not to translate those texts ( some are translations from Swedish to French themselves) because I thought I could make terrible mistakes trying to put Strindberg’s ideas in English (or Spanish). I’m sure there are some versions of this texts in your language.
(2) The exhibition was mainly known thanks to the book that was published about it: “August Strindberg Painter and Photographer”, edited by Yale University and Stockholm Museum.