|Message from Jakob Ehrensvärd
What are these galleries all about, I have been asked - trains, mines and decay - strange interests indeed... Well, strange or not, I won't comment, but I guess there is a something like a red thread here.
I spend most of my "intellectual hours" in developing technical stuff - new stuff, in slightly different ways that it usually done. That's at least my own impression of it.
After some years in trying to put the finger on it, I actually think what joins it all together – my interests in this abandoned stuff and the state-of-the-art things I’m doing for living is very well summarized by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. The common denominator is "The capitalist art of creative destruction" – the progressive way that new things are developed at a stunning speed, without any mercy to the heritage or old ways of doing it. When staying at the ruins of an old mine, which prosperity once was created by just this power and surprisingly – it also killed it when someone else took another step forward elsewhere. Sic transit Gloria mundi...
I was born during the record years in the 1960s (in 1966 to be more precise) but as I grew up there was an apparent shift in the society's mood from "boom" to "bust". Maybe a banal anecdote, but I very clearly remember when our school teacher told that we could not just grab a new pencil when the old was used up - the supply was limited to one pencil per month! Some years later, we had to bring our own pencils. Don't get me wrong here - maybe you've never had pencils for free in school and I guess my parents did not have that either. My kids don't. What I want to visualize is the fact that given some basic simplifications of things, there was a short time window when "everything was just fine"... Well, at least sort of...
Let's call this little anecdote and the reflection over the subject the first pieces in an interest of mine that has grown over the years. I have as long as I can remember been fascinated by the modern history, in particular the time when nations transformed from rural peasants into modern industrialized societies. Take Sweden for an example, a country where people starved to death as late as around 1870. One hundred years later Sweden reached the world top in terms of GDP per capita - quite an achievement.
Sweden is small in terms of population but it is a large country area-wise. I really think what made sense for the modern world here was the national consensus in the 1850s to build a nation-wide trunk rail network, funded with government money. With the ability to move goods and people around and a simultaneous shift in the laws for establishing enterprises, some key ingredients were there. With a long background both in timber/wood, iron ore and steel manufacturing, it was obvious starting points for growth. After a slow start, a tremendous journey upwards began and sustained until the end of WWI.
Let's notice that there are some distinct driving factors here - a technological, a political, an ideological and finally a commercial one. Interestingly enough, these powers have not always been in sync and they all seems to have had their ups and downs over the years.
But there are no evergreens and this spectacular journey surely had its underlying structural deficiencies and a forward-looking person probably understood already in the early 1960s that the dark clouds were forming. It is fair to say that the driving factors all ran out of gas around 1970. It's a bit like driving a company - when your vision is gone, it is hard to successfully drive your business further, whatever your incentive.
Although we're by no means down in the gutter again, the re-structuring of the industry which started during the 1960s was probably almost as overwhelming as the boom hundred years earlier. Established enterprises with hundreds of years were shaken by their foundations - some reinvented themselves and survived the 1970s and the first oil crisis and some didn't. In the beginning of the 1980s, there had been a massive industrial shakeout and Sweden's budget deficit started to become a major concern as the national debt grew at an alarming rate.
However, with a regulated currency policy, the tool of massive devaluations kept the competitive advantage up for quite some years, although the underlying problems grew.
Additional economic liberalization and Sweden's entry into the European Union in 1995 changed the business climate considerably and some industrial sectors grew where others deteriorated.
Now, as we're into the "post-industrial" era and globalization effects pose an even harder push on the established businesses, it seems like we're experiencing another fundamental shift in the industrial landscape. I'll try to be in sync with time now and document the process now rather than being out "thirty years too late" as I sometimes feel when shooting old remains of the industrial landscape.
It is with somewhat mixed emotions I have been around and trying to capture the underlying feeling in these abandoned villages and sites. Although the fascination is there and I try to imagine how it must have been in the past, it feels somewhat sad to see so much effort being wasted.
Well - that's something like the story behind these galleries and what emotions I've tried to capture. Does that mean that I’m a nostalgic who think it was better back then ? I think we are all a bit bewildered and afraid of the big challenges that the modern time constantly forces us to adapt to. It is fascinating with new technology, new inventions and a growing economy where a brighter future is in front of us. But on the contrary, there is an omnipresent sense of doom and stress out there and I think it is easy to fall back into the sense that the past was a more peaceful time and where the everyday reality was somewhat easier to understand. I must admit that I tend to get that feeling every now and then although I really think we have a better world now than back then. I strongly believe it can be very destructive to nourish these feelings of the fantastic past and I certainly believe that people had this feeling 25, 50 and 100 years back as well.
So – is there a bottom line somewhere ? I believe so – by understanding our past, what has been achieved, the sweat and tears being invested in finding a better life, I believe we can better understand and appreciate where we are today. It is a very fascinating subject, I think.