An abstract framing of a bridge (Västerbron in Stockholm) introduces the film Bro, bro och väggar... En film med fotografen Lennart Olsson (made by Lars-Lennart Forsberg for the Swedish Television in 1964). The span of the bridge stretches in a dramatic form, and the tiny figure in the right corner turns out to be the photographer Lennart Olsson. The speaker/Forsberg comments: ‘This is a rather symbolic image. The little man you see in the right corner is a photographer, and the huge bridge is the photographer’s motif.’ Olsson accounts for his passion with bridges and image making, experimental form being a core issue of both narration and montage. Olsson’s photographs are presented in a montage of stills, or by means of the film camera scanning their surface and details of the represented.
The film was part of a TV series entitled ‘Portrait of four photographers,’ and transmitted during November and December 1964. The personal address and the sense of a personal face-to-face encounter is stressed by the effect of recorded sound, the absence of music, and the liveness of ‘talking heads’, instead of the wry factual tone of the voice-over associated with early educational programming. The subordination of images to an explanatory speaker was suddenly in this series replaced by the subject facing the camera in direct address. In Forsberg’s TV series, the combination of lightweight camera and synchronic sound recording stresses the personal address of the film and the framing of a unique craftmanship develops into a personal encounter. The spontaneity and stressed performativity of the TV film results not only from the technological change imposed by direct sound, it accords with documentary ideals that are in fact closer to Jean Rouch than to Pennebaker: To quote Rouch: ‘For me then, the only way to film is to walk with the camera, taking it where it is most effective and improvising another type of ballet with it, trying to make it as alive as the people it is filming.’ In Forsberg’s portrait of Lennart Olson, he played with strategies of framing and editing in deliberately filming the photographer in the act of photographing. As a result, the entire series play with visual representation and meta-filmic themes. As Olsson speaks about abstract art and the Swedish artist Olle Bertling, the camera zooms into the image of a bridge, such as the span gradually fills the screen until it is completely black.. A montage of stills illustrates Olsson’s account of a period when he was very influenced by abstract and minimalist photography. The sound persists after a cut to Forsberg and Olsson who sit at a table, listening to the recorded interview. Olsson smiles at a passage on the meaning of photographic form and the infinite formal variations that a camera may inscribe from the implied rhythm and structures of a bridge. There is a close-up of Forsberg’s hand as he turns off the tape-recorder, and then the camera moves from Forsberg to Olsson as he casually asks ‘well, Lennart, will you keep on making bridges then? The filmed conversation stresses the role of both interviewer and interviewee as subjects of the film. Their relaxed way of addressing complex questions differs a lot from the narration provided by the lecturing voice-over of earlier arts programs. In the Swedish television of 1964 – new technology, international influences, and a generous system of freelance filmmaking made way for experimental form and playful short films in the regulated context of public programming.
Arts television has attracted scholarly attention because of its practice of re-representation and educational policy, combined with the intention to teach ”good taste” to a broader audience. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the educational and aesthetic merit of ”art films” was broadly recognized in Sweden, where a striking number of programs were dedicated to visual art. Tracing the ”TV-film” in relation to developments of technology, subjects, and different modes of address will also suggest a history of educational programming that belongs both to the history of documentary cinema and that of public television (Corner, 2008).
In Sweden as elsewhere, the art film represented an important element in public broadcasting culture during the 1950’s and 1960’s. It concerned primarily documentary films devoted to art and cultural history, which came to represent an important feature in European TV films. The concept also included studio programs about experimental cinema and film history. Short films shot on 16mm made for a decisive part of the scheduled programs during the first decade of public television.
In the following I will account for this media history of filmmaking in early Swedish television, while also addressing the international context of documentary, it’s new technologies, aesthetic ideals, social commitment and changing modes of address in the early and mid-sixties. More specifically, my example will focus on the production context of the Swedish Radio Film Unit and the collaboration with the group “Ten Photographers”, which throughout the sixties resulted in about 200 TV-films.
/ Jean Rouch, ‘The Camera and Man,’ in Steven Feld (ed.), Ciné-Ethnography Jean Rouch (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 38-39.