Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff was an author and a photographer. She was one of the young crop of photographers who made an impact in the early 1950s and who came to represent innovation within photography.
Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff was born in Stockholm. She was the daughter of the known zoologist and itinerant researcher Sten Bergman. She developed an interest in nature, animals, and long trips at an early age. She was a student of the court photographer Arne Wahlberg who taught her how to airbrush, commercial photography, as well has how to make colour prints. She later came to work mainly as a reporter for various newspapers and undertook about 50 adventurous trips around the globe. She married Sven Gillsäter, a fellow photographer, who was a member of the successful photographers’ collective called Tio Fotografer (Ten Photographers), and had a daughter with him called Pia. Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff then lived with filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff, with whom she completed several projects and undertook various journeys. They had a son called Jens. Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff spent many years living at Dämmans Gård in Luleå with her third husband, Gösta Vogel-Rödin, where she devoted herself to writing books, taking pictures, and hunting.
Astrid Bergman participated in the photographic exhibition entitled Unga Fotografer, which opened in Stockholm in March 1949. The display was a success and resulted in a breakthrough for the eleven young photographers whose work was on show. The group included Sten Didrik Bellander, Ellen Dahlberg, Sven Gillsäter, Hans Hammarskiöld, Rune Hassner, Tore Johnson, Hans Malmberg, Lars Nodin, Lennart Nilsson, and Tor Ivan Odult. The event’s initiator was Lars Wickman, editor of Foto and instigator of the series entitled “De unga” in the journal. Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff was “De unga V” in number 7, published in 1949, in which she was presented as one of the few female “photograph enthusiasts”. At this time the photography scene in Sweden, and abroad, was still largely male-dominated and female photographers were forced to use different strategies and to break well-established patterns in order to succeed.
The photographs included in the display comprised a mix of surrealist inspired images, hard black and whites, almost abstract compositions as well as portraits and imagery from news reports. Most of the exhibition reviews were positive and this comparatively small and simple show, held at a non-establishment gallery, using relatively unknown photographers, can be said to have caused a paradigm shift within Swedish photography. The young criticised the older generation’s view of photography, which they perceived to be fixated on technique and thus impersonal. However, it was a rival exhibition, held by the Stockholm Kameraklubb group in December 1949, which really kick-started the debate around the young photographers and their new style of photography. The Stockholm Kameraklubb had been founded in 1946 by a group of professional and amateur photographers from Fotografiska Föreningen (a photographers’ association), which included Helmer Bäckström, Gustaf W:son Cronquist, Agnes Hansson, Lennart af Petersens, Arne Wahlberg, and Rolf Winquist. This rival show was also thoroughly reviewed but far less favourably by those who were news photographers and particularly by art critic Ulf Hård af Segerstad in Svenska Dagbladet. The selected display was considered to be very traditional, with a weakness for fog, and a well-practised but uniform use of technique. In sum, there was no experimentation or surprises. The public debate became an intense discussion on new methods of taking pictures. The generational divide between the younger and older photographers was not just about the style of pictures, but also about lifestyle and the social and political prerequisites of photography.
Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff’s first book, published in 1953, was titled Micki rävungen. She used black and white photography to tell the story of a small fox cub’s adventures one sunny summer day. Her main themes became animals and nature, with and for children. A few years later she released the book Chendru får en tiger, 1959, which attracted international attention and was translated into several languages. It tells the story of a boy in an Indian jungle village, and resulted from a long stay in India, where she had worked as a still-life photographer during the filming of Arne Sucksdorff’s film En djungelsaga, 1957. Chendru får en tiger is a picture book in colour with massive pictures which were printed right to the edge of the page in warm yellow, green and brown tones, reflecting the nature which surrounded the village. At this time it was still quite unusual to find colour photographs in printed books. Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff, who was both an author and a photographer, successfully created a synthesis between a reference book and a storybook.
After the Second World War she began to focus on publishing photographic picture books for children. This was a natural progression of the general development of photo picture books. This genre proved to be a particularly successful way to show how children lived in foreign places and to report on animals and nature. There was pedagogy behind both of these concepts and the books tend to be classed as factual books. Anna Riwkin-Brick, who produced 19 photo picture books on children from various countries, paved the way for photojournalism for children. Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff, along with Anna Riwkin-Brick, is perhaps the most famous photographer who produced photo picture books for children. She published 20 books and in 1984 was awarded the Astrid Lindgren prize in recognition of her efforts.
In 1997 Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff released an autobiography called Med livet i focus. Towards the end of her life she lived in Skara. Since 2015 her archive has been managed by Landskrona museum.
Asrid Bergman Sucksdorff died in Skara in 2015.