With his book Tractor Boys, Swedish photographer Martin Bogren takes us to remote village outskirts where a sworn community of youths lives by the sound of roaring engines and the heavy air of smoking tyres, trying to flee boredom by going faster than life. In the south of Sweden, where summer days are long and the days of idleness grow even longer, a bunch of youths get together on a plain asphalt field against the background of a smoking factory, racing their tractor cars in an ambitious fight for skills, strength, and girls.
Their cars, proudly-cherished and geared up for the confrontation, are known as EPA tractors - old cars converted for use as agricultural machines. Since the Sixties, these models have been particularly popular in rural areas, as the EPA law allows even 15-year olds to drive. The boys have a dedication for their cars and a weakness for speed, and in their closed-off community, they experiment with the delicate boundaries between being a kid and being a man.
Bogren captures them in personal, self-involved moments, portraying scenes of vulnerability in a raging world brimming with testosterone and petrol fumes. The grainy black and white plates show the boys behind the wheel, their soft faces determined, blurred by the smoke and, often, Bogren's camera shake. Reflections of the sun in the windscreens add an ephemeral feel to this idiosyncratic story of youth, rebellion and companionship. The dynamism and dazed state of their world are directly translated in the images, creating a raw impression in which the subjects become somewhat fluid and laden with associations. First kisses, first cigarettes, sleeping in the car during warm summer nights, climbing walls, conquering the world - a whole melting pot of emotions effuses from Bogren's simple, concentrated viewpoint.
Tractor Boys is a small, unobtrusive book that comes in a grey clothbound cover and with a simple layout, a lot of white space directing the focus inevitably to the black and white images. And it is Bogren's modest and respectful, genuinely kind glance at this restless bunch of boys that makes his images shine even brighter. The way he approaches and observes this community is remarkable - both in a protective and revealing manner, somehow from a distance that seems adequate, but still allowing for an inside peek at a secretive world.
In his introductory essay, curator and critic Christian Caujolle describes the unique role Bogren managed to find within this sworn community: "We cannot know anything of this world, it is not for sharing (...). But the photographer, because he has understood the position that he should take, half-opens the door. He marks these minute moments, moments we recognize. We want to connect them to each other - to reconstruct relationships that can be understood only through what we can draw from our own memories."
Tractor Boys is available from Dewi Lewis Publishing.