As industrialization gave way to the information society in Sweden, many of the country’s beautiful old factories were turned into offices, shops and restaurants. London-based Swede Emma Hammar grew up close to one of those places, the red brick buildings of AB Svenska Metallverken (Swedish Metalworks Ltd.), on Maskinistgatan (Machinist Street) in Västerås. Today, when factory work is something western society knows mostly from museums and Bruce Springsteen songs, the factory is no longer used for metal production, but the memory of its creations lives on in Hammar’s new book, “Metallen.”
Metallen features beautiful, colorful images of the microscopic processes of oxidizing copper, juxtaposed with micro-fictions by writer Philippa Snow. Hammar discovered the photo archive that forms the book last year. “Having moved away from Sweden when I was a teenager, and later studying visual anthropology, this project has, in hindsight, worked as a kind of exploration of a culture that I grew up in but feel quite distant from,” she tells Cool Hunting.
The photos in “Metallen” were taken by Nils-Peter Blix, who Svenska Metallverken employed as a laboratory photographer in the 1960s and 70s, and who still lives outside Västerås. “Factories document processes—like the oxidation of copper—to improve things. In this instance, it was to make the metal better, stronger and more versatile. To me, this process of improvement is an important part of the visual language of the book,“ Hammar says.
Factories document processes—like the oxidation of copper—to improve things. In this instance, it was to make the metal better, stronger and more versatile. To me, this process of improvement is an important part of the visual language of the book
It’s a visually enchanting exploration of a disappearing world, and Snow’s texts enhance the book with their reflections on the future of an industrialized society, like “Ours is an inner migration, passing into the motherboards of computers and dumping the skin and the senses.”
The Svenska Metallverken factory in Västerås has now been turned into offices, a cinema and a bakery. Though she’s upset that the skill and knowledge of those who worked there is disappearing, Hammar has at least managed to capture some of the beautiful work that was made before the factory closed down and, in doing so, has given the metal an almost mythical, otherworldly feel.
The “Metallen” project will also feature stop-frame films of oxidizing metal, with a soundtrack from musicians including Grovestreet and Cremation Lily. The book is available now in an edition of 750 from Ditto Press for £25.
Images courtesy of Cajsa Carlson