Mikael Jansson
Speed of Life
April 28
— May 24, 2017


Life-embracing and death-defying

What’s the allure of such an extreme, extravagant sport? It is no doubt something you feel deep in your bowels, an echo of the heightened sense of being alive that must engorge your body in a car, in front of an audience, racing along at an unimaginable 300 km/h. Mikael Jansson let his curiosity get the better of him, becoming the first photographer truly to get to the beating heart of this fabled culture. Through his eyes, we experience it, too. Enigmatic images of chrome, drivers, dust. The men and the fans. It’s so much more than just a motor sport. These photos, some in a monumental 260 x 390 cm format, raise existential issues, questions about the human drive to push back boundaries and challenge the laws of nature, and our longing for a higher spiritual dimension.

With clients like Calvin Klein, Armani and Christian Dior, Vogue Paris, W Magazine and Interview, for whom he often shoots portraits of influential personalities, Mikael Jansson is counted one of the world’s leading photographers. He has published several books, exhibited at galleries and museums around the world, and won several prestigious awards.

Ten years after it premiered with a major exhibition at Kulturhuset, CFHILL is proud to once again present Speed of Life. Special thanks to Daniel Boyacioglu for the poem he wrote for the occasion.

Michael Elmenbeck
Michael Storåkers
Anna-Karin Pusic


Speed of Life
Estelle af Malmborg

Mikael Jansson is one of the world’s elite fashion photographers, yet he has also managed to become a credible presence in the artworld. The boundaries between fashion and art photography have long since been in the process of being erased. Photographers like Wolfgang Tillmans, Inez and Vinoodh, and Juergen Teller have operated in this borderland, drawing artistic inspiration from challenging traditional fashion photography and playing on the uncertainties of the audience. Mikael Jansson is not particularly interested in being a provocateur, however, and has instead put his long years of experience as a freelance photographer in the service of art projects that build on his unerring feeling for composition and dramatic structure.

Several years spent as an assistant to legendary photographer Richard Avedon left their mark on his work, and especially on his ability to persuade models to relax and allow us to look into their souls. The result is portraits that have an intense presence, whether they are of Swedish Crown Princess Victoria in blue jeans or American rock icon Iggy Pop in a dress.

This idea of presence is also the essence of  ”Speed of Life”, which dramatises a world literally of life or death. If Mikael Jansson’s fashion photography is all about composing and refining images, this in contrast is a matter of instinctively capturing the particular feeling of the moment. 

Even though speed, movement, power and the now are the focus, there is something archaic and primitive in these images – a feeling of standing outside time. My thoughts drift to a recent visit to the Uffizi in Florence and an encounter with Italian renaissance painter Paolo Uccello’s incomparable ”The Battle of San Romano” (ca 1438). The almost abstract quality of Uccello’s painting echoes through Mikael Jansson’s photos, with the monochrome colour scales contributing to a supernatural or illusionary feeling, even as we paradoxically find ourselves very much in the midst of things – as if in a dream. 

”Speed of Life” depicts a peculiar subculture with its own internal codes, yet it is a story all can grasp, a comprehensible reproduction of life and its component parts. A visit to the Monza race track in Italy sparked a fascination with the Formula 1 world. For four years (2003–2006), Mikael Jansson followed the Formula 1 circuit around the world.

A David Bowie track from the ”Low” album (1977) gave the project its name. As the title indicates, it reflects the ever-accelerating tempo of our world. It’s not wrong to see ”Speed of Life” as a homage to Bowie, whose boundary-busting world of art, music, fashion and style was one of Mikael Jansson’s primary inspirations for deciding to devote his life to photography.

”Speed of Life” is about man’s place in the world, about belonging, identity and identification. What makes the photos distinctive is their heightened atmosphere, their almost up-on-tip-toes emotional elevation. Some of the photos are in sharp focus, others conspicuously grainy, creating a filter between the photo and the beholder, adding to their feeling of timelessness.

Rarely do we see any faces. Rather, masks, suits and protective gear cover nearly every human element, lending the photos a theatrical dimension. The homogeneously dressed figures meld together, becoming a group entity, an overall symphony of motion in which everybody knows what he should be doing and a hundredth of a second can make all the difference in the world. The photos oscillate between close proximity and sweeping distance. In a few, beneath the visor of the helmet, we meet the driver’s gaze, betraying expectation, total concentration and a focus on the now – but also dread.

”Speed of Life”lays bare a psychological state that has no beginning and no end. At centre-stage is the relationship between the drivers and the audience. Like a wordless classical drama, it plays out before our eyes. There is a parallel to the aesthetics of advertising and the international fashion world – another subculture with which Mikael Jansson is intimately familiar. The photos end up serving as a jumping-off place for more universal questions about the conditions of life, dreams and driving ambitions, too. They reveal a deep interest in the power of the photographic image. But they are also very much concerned with the vulnerability of the body and the close proximity of death. Most of the images have a feeling of waiting or expectation, reminding us how the camera turns us all into voyeurs.