Johan Willner (b. 1971) lives and works in Stockholm. He studied photography at I.C.P in New York (1995-96) and 2006 got a MFA from the University Collage of Arts, Craft and Design in Stockholm. Willner works with both documentary and staged photography, and allows the subject or the concept to determine the technique. He also works with text, combined with the visual. His latest book Boy Stories was released 2012 by Hatje Cantz. In 2015, Wind Upon the Face of Waters was awarded Best Portfolio at Landskrona Photo Festival and the winner of the Spine International Dummy Award in Stockholm. The book will be released during Landskrona Foto Festival.

Wind Upon the Face of Waters (Portfolio of the Year 2015)  

Galleri Gamla Staden
19-28 August 2016

Wind Upon the Face of Waters deals with the great questions of religion and faith, from a perspective to be brought up in a modern, political and strongly secular society. It is a personal story that also reflects on the photographic method. I combine the black and white photographs with an integrated essay in which the two parts follow each other and work both independently and jointly in the photographic and textual narrative.

Johan Willner:

“I grew up in secularized Sweden. In my childhood in the 1970s and 80s, it seemed to me that the Church had very little influence, as if the need of God was rather weak. The modern society was complete and the State had carved out a singular, independent role based on a political ideal. We were all to have our place in the notion of Sweden; it was a joint enterprise with a kind of tunnel vision about the future. The labour movement led the way, and Che was more popular than Jesus. It felt that there was a shame attached to the idea of faith. Maybe it was just an easy option to carry over the idea of secularization to the rest of the world. Based on the world in which I grew up.

So I was taken aback to discover the importance of religion in other places in the world. Religion as an obvious part of the community. As fundamental to life and to the living.

Faith – I feel the weight of the word. Faith that can move mountains. A trust in the authority of God and His power, enraptured by the divine. Can one speak about the weight of this? Heavy as in something to bear, or light as in air. From superstition to healing and consolation and something to cling to when the ground gives way beneath you.

I can envy the last, but I know nothing. Even so, I circle it. Explore it, probe it and try to understand. Regard it. Like cowardice in not daring to surrender to it, or like courage in thinking rationally, as I had once learnt to do – salvation as a form of psychosis.

To turn the other cheek, because God’s love is so great that He embraces even those who deride Him.

The theme for this work is faith. A far-reaching theme that I have no actual ambition to interpret. But within the framework of faith there is searching, and in that, my own space to explore. My work is a reflection. A voice in the context of this vast theme. The religious has always attracted and frightened, at the same time.”