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Friday, 21 June 2013

Martin Bogren's Tractor Boys

Youth culture, cars, road trips and rites of passage have made for some of the most dynamic work of the last 10 years. Think Trent Parke, Mike Brodie and Stacy Kranitz - and then add Martin Bogren to the collection for his Tractor Boys book. 

The title is the worst thing about the book. It reminds me of Ipswich Town (a football team in the East of England whose nickname is the Tractor Boys - countryside, farms, cider, tractors...) but the pictures are really rather lovely with a far more sensitive and loving touch than might be expected.

The book (published by Dewi Lewis) opens with a super-grainy picture (they're all super grainy) of a bunch of kids sleeping in a car. They look about 14 or 15 but they could be three or four so far are they into their sleep. And that is where the book succeeds, in catching that childlike air of adolescence, and mixing it with the bravado and high jinks of burning the rubber off souped up 'tractor cars'.

But even these acts of youthful machismo, the boys trying to impress the girls, have an air of innocence about them. This is the car as an adrenalin tool - it's a slide or a rope swing or jumping off a bridge into a river below. The boys try to impress the girls, but they are in it for their own satisfaction.

So we see them queuing up for a ride, watching the blurred smoke pour out of a blurred engine, clinging onto a bonnet as the car spins round and round. Then we see them smoking and kissing, wet  crotch against hard crotch before we're back into sleeping again. Like toddlers, they drive and they kiss and they get exhausted and they sleep.

I feel that the cars and the smoke get in the way of this kind of picture(there are tremendous smoking car and clouds of dust projects out there) because what makes the book special are the insights Bogren gives us to the teenagestate of mind. He has a feel for that age group and the subjects that is touching and also  feels kind. And kindness is good, especially in photography; a medium which is remarkably unkind given all the lip service it pays to doing the right thing.

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