Going hyperlocal in Hägersten

Photographer and editor Alexander Farnsworth takes us around his neighborhood of Hägersten and introduces us to its residents through hyperlocal photography.

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Exploring particular neighborhoods in Stockholm in-depth is one slow way of experiencing the city’s everyday life. From the hum and flow around the neighborhood as it readies itself for the day to how to starts to wind down as light fades. The neighborhood of Hägersten located southwest of Stockholm’s center is part of the borough of Hägersten-Liljeholmen which was formed in 2007 by merging the urban districts of Hägersten and Liljeholmen.

Alexander Farnsworth

Portrait of photographer Alexander Farnsworth by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Capturing everyday slices of life in what we call hyperlocal photography is Stockholm-based American photographer Alexander Farnsworth, also editor of Hägersten’s local community paper Bättre stadsdel.

Farnsworth has been living in Stockholm for at least 25 years and we reached out to him to take us through his creative work about his neighborhood, Hägersten.

STS: Can you please tell us about yourself and your background?

I grew up in the UK, Belgium and France and went to college and graduate school in the US.

Both my father and grandfather were foreign correspondents in Asia, Africa, the Middle east and Africa for major American newspapers during some of the most exciting times of the 20th century.

I guess one could say the travel bug is what took me to Stockholm in the first place and continues to lead me on assignments across Scandinavia and the rest of the world.

One of my first major projects when I arrived in Sweden back in 1990 was to document the life of long distance truck drivers on trips through the Baltic States, Russia, Ukraine, Norway, and the former Yugoslavia.

These stories I sold as a freelancer to newspapers and magazines from Stockholm to Brisbane, and gave me an in with the then burgeoning field of custom publishing, or corporate magazines, for whom I continue to provide text and photo features about heavy industrial projects, applications, sites, factories etc.

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How did you get into photography and what’s your style?

My photographic style is really to approach every situation with utmost curiosity, and try, as good as I can, to sum up a story, a situation, a place, a person with as much symbolic imagery as possible. “If it is not good enough get closer,” is a famous piece of photographic advice that I try to emulate as much as possible.

In sum, my style is definitely photojournalistic and documentary and if an image appears that has that little extra that all photographers recognise then I am ecstatic of course. And ironically as is often the case, those kinds of wow! photos are usually the ones that get rejected by clients, and funnily enough are some of the ones I included in the exhibit.

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What inspired your photography project covering Hägersten?

My project documenting the neighbourhood of Hägersten started when I began writing (in Swedish) and photographing for a hyperlocal internet-based newspaper where I live. I never really paid much attention to my local surroundings my eye always set on the next foreign assignment. But then I slowed down and started observing my neighbourhood and pitching stories and doing them as I found them.

Today, eight months later I am on the editorial board of battrestadsdel.se and continue to produce local stories many of which are as exotic and fulfilling to do as anything far away. Producing two or three local stories a week generated a mountain of imagery where many individual images, at least in my mind, somehow percolated to the surface becoming more than the sum of their parts.

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In other words, seen together, they presented a current, up-to-date, visual document of life in the Stockholm suburb of Hägersten in early 2015. A time capsule sounds way pretentious but that is what it was. I wanted to give new life to photos, photos of locals, that otherwise would have disappeared in the perpetual news cycle that envelops us all.

Tell us more about your exhibition?

The exhibition of 18 photos in the Liljeholmen Galleria or mall was a perfect example of a synergy between myself, the local newspaper and the local mall. I was looking for a place to exhibit, the newspaper needed and still needs exposure, and the mall, a commercial mecca, needed to show some involvement in local affairs, and still needs to profile itself on the cultural front as a kind of good will gesture to the people who shop there.

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This kind of cultural exhibition in a commercially driven mall is actually quite unique in Sweden. When I was hanging the photos people actually asked if this was some kind of new advertising campaign, which was of course flattering, but I said no. I really wasn’t trying to sell anything. My sole purpose was to show what an interesting neighbourhood Hägersten actually is.

One point worth mentioning is that every photo is accompanied by a printed so-called QR code that can be read by a mobile phone camera and a special QR app which automatically directs the viewer to the original story on the battrestadsdel.se site for mobile phones where the picture appeared.

Here an article from Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish) explaining it.

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Any more projects in the works? Anything more from Hägersten?

I have many more projects in the works. I will keep on working for battrestadsdel.se, I will continue my corporate assignments. And I continue to explore exciting destinations such as Xi’an, Montreux, Istanbul and yes, Helsinki for a growing side business I have in so-called stock photography. Amid all this I have a book project in the works.

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Can you take us through the best way to spend a day exploring Hägersten including cafe/lunch spots and what to do?

The best way to explore Hägersten in a day is either by bike or subway. There are ten subway stations on the red line that traffic the borough between Liljeholmen and Fruängen, and Liljeholmen and Västertorp. A splendid array of bike paths crisscross the area as well. Liljeholmskajen is a relatively new neighbourhood built between the Årsta Bridge and the Liljeholms Bridge at Hornstull and should be of interest to anyone interested in modern Swedish architecture and urban planning.

A couple nice waterfront restaurants like Bankomat and Boar’s Head Inn serve good pub fare. Liljeholmen around the subway station also has a slew of restaurants and pubs, including Sports Bar O’Leary’s, and a newly opened Tapas joint.

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Further afield in Midsommarkransen, a must for anyone interested in authentic Swedish fare would be Nalle & Kroppkaka, which serve a form of potato dumpling stuffed with different ingredients, served with lingonberries. Telefonplan is also a happening area home to Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, and has its share of upscale sushi, Indian, cafes, and especially daily food trucks of all types parked there during the day.

The best advice though I would have is just to pick a destination and follow your better judgement. But stay away from places where people look like they are drinking heavily, and avoid most pizza joints in the area.

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One particular highlight would be a gander in Vinterviken, a beautiful car free and lakeside park between Aspudden and Gröndal that has a wonderful outdoor cafe during the summer, as well as farmer’s market and occasional concerts, and Winterviken, a well known restaurant that is the home turf of Marcus Aujalay, one of Sweden’s most popular chefs. The Vinterviken park also has a whole batch of private garden plots where locals often go to grill and drink wine, and tend their gardens.

Follow Farnsworth’s work on his portfolio site and on Facebook.

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Author: Lola A. Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning writer, photographer, and travel blogger, and is also the Founder/Editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm. Her photography is represented by National Geographic Creative. She tweets at @LolaAkinmade.

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