The series Majorna was photographed on medium-format colour film on location in the city of Göteborg, Sweden. This was the first piece of practice-based research I engaged in for my PhD studies. Majorna is a neighbourhood in the harbour city of Göteborg on Sweden’s west coast, where I lived with my mother during my formative years. This part of Göteborg used to be inhabited by harbour workers and shipbuilders from the 16th century onwards, and the name may refer to an old term meaning ‘the Cabins’ or ‘the Huts’ (Hallén et al. 2007).
The blocks of flats where I grew up were built in the 1920s. Each block of flats was designed so as to incorporate an enclosed green courtyard in its centre where one could hang washing out to dry, clean rugs, socialise and have parties, and where children could play safely. I spent my childhood in Majorna, and this is the geographic area in which I (via the interaction with others) learned about important elements such as independence and the social hierarchies that children form; about friendship and betrayal, love and heartache, about violence and death. Majorna was an important component in my developmental years, yet there are very few photographs taken during my childhood that feature the area. This can be seen as an example of the form of gaps between photographs and subjective memories in which I am interested. I therefore treated Majorna as a form of thought experiment: as I am unable to mnemically connect with the photographs in my family album, what would happen if I travelled back to this neighbourhood (for the first time since my teenage years) and photographed it?
I did exactly that: I went to Majorna in the autumn of 2006, soon after enrolling as a research degree student, wishing to think-through my ideas of the undocumented and relationships to subjective, important memories via my art practice. I walked through the neighbourhood, down familiar streets, through courtyards of blocks of flats I used to live in, and around schoolyards of schools I attended as a child. Many parts of Majorna had changed since the 1980s and early 1990s, so my walk through Majorna became an event in itself: an event through which memories emerged.
I took photographs as I made my way through the area. However, I became more interested in the subjective mnemonic affects Majorna had on me. Among other elements, these affects were triggered by the spatial dimensions surrounding me: the width of the streets; distances between buildings; open spaces; steep stairs leading up to a school, the various smells (elm tree leaves rotting on the ground; muddy fields; the musty odours of the courtyards), the visual impressions (street lights suspended between blocks of flats; the colours of buildings; trams moving past), the textures (tiled roofs; peeling paint on front gates; knobbly, uneven tarmaced pavements) and the sounds (the cawing of seagulls; the screeching noise of trams coming around corners; the dull sound of a large wooden gate closing behind me). I returned with a series of photographs void of human subjects, depicting various spaces around the area of Majorna.
The mnemic affect took place in the event of the journey and in the walk itself. I came to realise that the notion of a representation that encapsulated my subjective memories was futile, as was the attempt physically to return to a space that has become virtual.