In ‘Montöristen’, Carl-Mikael Ström presents family matters and ordinary life in an unusual way – showing the emotional process behind him becoming a father and his sudden questioning of his own importance. In 2019, ‘Montöristen’ has become a book (published by VOID) that includes photographs from the past five-and-a-half years.
Was Montöristen a project about fatherhood from the start?
Surprisingly, no. ‘Montöristen’ was not a project about fatherhood from the start. Unconsciously, it was many years in the making. It started with a one roll of film that my mother brought me. I shot it when I was a child in the mid-west countryside of Sweden. On the roll, there were only images of horses and since it was developed only recently, the traces of time were very much visible. I would say, in the beginning, Montöristen was more about my father than anything else. He passed away in 2013… The long-term project only shifted towards fatherhood after my son was born. It began as a crippling try-out of an “Apprentices notebook” where I would attempt to release the felt emotions at the time into thoughts. During my son’s first year, I wrote about 1700 journal pages and I still store this book up until today.
The word “montöristen” originates from the Frech word “monteur” and translates to “fitter” in English. How do you relate this term to your work?
I am someone who creates and assembles out of my own needs and according to my own rules. By being a “Monteurist”, for me, it is a way of having authority over my work and my title. I don’t necessarily see myself as an “artist”, “photographer”, “writer”, “poet” or “filmmaker”.
There is a lot of crossed-out text in the book, providing a sense of mystery and triggering existential questions. What is the reason behind this act and overall what would you say is the role of text in the project?
The text is crucial, it is of equal importance as the images. Regarding the act of crossing out, I would say… If we are bound by language and we have an urge to go beyond it, we have to start the liberation within the frame. There is no intention that the images should explain the text or vice versa.
‘Montöristen’ can be seen as an emotional rollercoaster where both text and imagery intertwine. Both by your use of mutilated images and obscured text, there seems to be importance given to affective engagement with your work. I would even say that your work surpasses mere representation and as a result, the meaning becomes ambiguous. Could you please elaborate on that?
No matter how I work with an image, the physical part of working with it is crucial for me. I do not believe that the medium of photography in itself is enough. The process is about “stretching” the content within the frame – the time, isolating the sentence, and the fact in the image – as opposed to the imaginary in writing. The duality between photography and writing is something I am experiencing.
In visual culture, there are definitely more bodies of work dealing with the concept of motherhood than fatherhood. Why do you think that is the case?
First, I think it is important to acknowledge that throughout the history of art, religion and social dynamics, men have been the ones who disproportionately portrayed women, sex, and pregnancy in a Luddite way that is visually just trite.
However naturally, I think there is a visual association of women with parenthood since women are the ones who physically go through the whole process of pregnancy and giving birth.
When my son’s mother was pregnant, I didn’t sense any fatherly experience yet. It didn’t feel certain and real until the first moment I held my son. During the process of creating this project, I asked myself what it means to be a father; it became something more than ephemeral. This re-evaluation calls you to question what it means to you as an individual to be a parent.
You tend to avoid clichés of merely focusing on the positive sides of becoming a father and instead, you show the insecurities and difficulties involved in this life-changing period of your life. Did ‘Montöristen’ become a sort of epiphany and catharsis for you when you completed it?
‘Montöristen’ didn’t become an immediate epiphany or catharsis for me, it was actually a really long struggle, and I would even say these feelings didn’t arrive. I believe that must be a cliché. But I think that no matter what I create, I will eventually always feel that it is not enough.
Even though in the book, I wrote the sentence: “Mental, poetry, therapy.” I would say the statement is more related to how I look at creating as an individual, but the meaning is yet unknown to me. There is no subjective answer to this but in this mindset, Montöristen goes beyond the book format, it expands to other fields in life than it merely being a photography book.
How do you look back at ‘Montöristen’ and how do you approach new work now?
I prefer not to look back at it. I like to move on, that’s part of the process.
I’m working on a new project now – ‘Brightness Hiding (The Failure)’ – where I am trying to dissolve the line between writing and imagery; and I’m failing, failing, and failing… So, the beauty is to wake up, force resistance away, and slowly peel ideas after ideas and thoughts after thoughts down through whatever means that are at hand. I am also trying to deconstruct the idea that photography is a “language” that I believe is fraudulent. I wish to be dyslectic in front of the image. I cannot speak photography and I do not talk about photography.
The book ‘Montöristen’ can be purchased here.