Stefan Syrowatka Photography

Northern Grace Review

Review by Frank Orthbandt in FLIP Magazine #16, Summer 2010

Northern Grace is the result of another photographic long-term project, where Stefan Syrowatka, a German-born photographer now based in Ireland, lived in and travelled throughout Scotland between 2000 - 2009. He presents his photographs from this period, studies of the Scottish people, in his book.

Split into two distinct chapters of city and country life, Stefan introduces us to scenes of ordinary everyday life in Scotland such as shoppers on the high street, teenagers hanging out, bingo halls, and highland games or village car boot sales. Presented entirely in black and white and with a street photography feel to it rather than using classic portraiture techniques, the emphasis is always on the people, their expressions and interactions, often presented as close ups, with the environment serving as a backdrop - never dominating, but giving subtle hints about the social context of his series.

Not shying away from the dangerous path of embracing stereotypical events as a starting point for his people studies, Stefan approaches his subjects as an outsider and distant observer, searching for the sense or the feeling of the moment, but taking a neutral stance and describing matter-of-factly rather than explaining or commentating. From a photographic viewpoint however, he is always in command and with apparent ease able to find the tranquil moment in busy surroundings.

The sequencing of the pictures is well thought through, increasing in tension and density of tone throughout the book, which is framed by two distinct picture pairs: A dominating cross coupled with a birth scene opens the book, subtly hinting at the importance of religion in the Scottish identity and society, with two landscapes closing the series. This reminds the viewer after an increasingly intensive visual journey of what Scotland also is famous for, its immensely beautiful landscape. This ending, although giving the viewer breathing space and time to reflect, appears to avoid a final comment or conclusion to this otherwise convincing work. But then, the author's final thoughts might already be summarised in the book's title.