A Sumptuous Anthology in an Extravagant Technique

A desire to depict the growing Swedish capital impelled Henry B. Goodwin in 1920 to publish the magnificent photo-book Our Beautiful Stockholm.

Of the 49 hand-pasted illustrations,Goodwin contributed 39 photogravures. The volume was adorned by an original frontispiece etching, “Studie”, by Carl Larsson, depicting a naked girl on a chair. The etching was signed in pencil: “C.L. on behalf of K.L.” In the introduction, Goodwin provides the explanation:

“A special rarity is the original drawing by Carl Larsson that accompanies each copy of this de luxe edition. The work is valuable not only as a memento of Carl Larsson’s art but also for being one of the last etchings created by the artist. It was conceived at such a late date that Carl Larsson did not have time to sign it. His wife Karin Larsson has thus, with her signature, completed the work of her husband.”

Additional illustrations were contributed by artists including Ferdinand Boberg, Louis Sparre, Axel Herman Hägg and Olle Hjortzberg. Their artworks celebrated the palaces of the Swedish Empire, the Stockholm of Lake Mälaren with its firewood ships and quayside trading, atmospheric alleys and dark streets.

However, Goodwin did not portray Stockholm’s medieval buildings and colourful multitude. Instead, he favoured the growing northern and eastern districts, with a particular predilection for Lärkstaden, an area that most resembled his beloved London. The southern borough of Södermalm did not feature on Goodwin’s map of Stockholm, as there are no images taken south of Slussen.

The photographs were shot with, for the time, small cameras, often pocket-cameras, and underwent the same kind of finishing process as the portraits. An enlarged photograph was retouched and contact printed into a negative image and, after further retouching, the final image was developed.

Similar to his early work, Goodwin’s photographs were characterised by harmonious compositions, expertly framed by lines, effective surfaces and balanced tones. Subtly charming in their everydayness, the photographs appear to have been shot in the course of long, aimless afternoon strolls. Goodwin explains:

“There are those among us who never leave the house without their minimal roll-film camera in their pocket. It is part of our standard equipment, such as the wrist watch, the handkerchief and the keyring.”

He described how the photograph “Jakob i tö” (Jakob in the Thaw) was conceived:

“‘Jakob i tö’ shows a Stockholm street scene in the foggy, grey thaw of 13 February 1915, at 2 p.m. Aperture 6.5, 1/25 sec (the car turned quickly around the corner straight across the line of fire).”

One may wonder what it was that urged Goodwin to self-publish this sumptuous photo-book. It was a costly project that most certainly incurred losses. We know for certain that Goodwin placed great value on artistic freedom and invested a huge part of the income accrued during his successful years. Design, paper, typefaces and printing technique had to be of the highest quality. In a postscript, Goodwin defines his ambition.

“The photographs in this book are not reproductions. Each image has been reworked from a negative original copy in photogravure, etched and printed by Vecko-Journalen’s Photogravure Institute, Stockholm. Two-hundred numbered copies have been printed at Lagerström Brothers Master Printers, Stockholm.”

Photogravure printing is a complicated and time-consuming artisanal process that requires the original negative to be recopied, retouched and reworked in various stages. Finally the positive image is printed onto pigment paper, whose coloured ink is transferred to a copper plate that is then etched. The plate is sensitive to wear and allows for a limited number of copies.

Books of high artistic quality was something Goodwin had learnt from photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, who published several exclusivephoto-books with handmade photogravures in the early 20th century. Coburn had installed a couple of printing-presses in his house in London in order to be able to print his books with this expensive technique. Goodwin admired Coburn’s artistic tastefulness and soon adopted his values.

It is not far-fetched to compare the design and themes of Coburn’s book production with those of Goodwin’s. In 1913, Coburn published Men of Mark with hand-printed photogravures featuring portraits of prominent personalities in the field of the arts. Four years later, Goodwin published Konstnärsporträtt (Artists’ Portraits) with a similar design and content.

Several years before Goodwin published Our Beautiful Stockholm in 1920, Coburn had published the books Londonand New York. The two photographers were friends and Coburn took a relaxed portrait of Goodwin during a meeting in London in 1914. A couple of weeks after the outbreak of the First World War, Coburn wrote to Goodwin:

“Esteemed Goodwin. I would love to send you the desired image, but I am not even sure that this letter will reach you. This is a terrible war, don’t you think? It may be my most unenviable destiny to photograph the ruins of London.”

Our Beautiful Stockholmis a very rare book. Several copies have disappeared and in many cases photographs have been removed, scattering the photogravures for ever.

Text: Bruno Ehrs