Lars Tunbjörk – obituary

Lars Tunbjörk, the renowned photographer best known for his vividly colourful, quietly witty photography of everyday life in Sweden, died this month aged 59, writes Thomas Cox.

Tunbjörk was one of Sweden’s most celebrated photographers. Headlines from Swedish media publications included epithets like “Lars Tunbjörk changed the way we see ourselves” (Sweden Radio) and “Lars Tunbjörk showed Sweden through his own melancholy” (Dagens Nyheter).

Born February 1956 in Borås, in the south of Sweden, Tunbjörk was 15 when he started taking photographs during work experience at his local newspaper Borås Tidning. After school, he began freelancing for the national newspaper Stockholms-Tidningen, before the fine art photography world first recognised his work with the Swedish Picture of the Year award for a black and white documentary picture of Swedish everyday life.

Tunbjörk’s international breakthrough came in 1993 with the book Country Beside Itself. His best-known series include Office (2001), which captures office workers in unexpected positions while working – such as under the desk – and Home (2003), in which minimalist shots of everyday things – playgrounds, flowers, armchairs – expose a quiet absurdity in Swedish suburbia.

Tunbjörk’s most recent work was a series for The New York Times last year capturing the people and environment of trailer parks on the fringes of American society.

Speaking to The New York Times in 2011, Tunbjörk said: “Especially in my older work, I was looking for strange, absurd situations, going on endless tours to festivals, campgrounds, and shopping centres. If I found an interesting place, I could stand there for hours, waiting. I often get asked if my pictures are staged. They are not.”

Throughout his career, Tunbjörk had solo exhibitions at the International Centre of Photography in New York (1995), the Moscow Photobiennale (2004) and the Gallery White Room in Tokyo (2008). His work was shown as part of group exhibitions in Photo Espania in Madrid (1998), X Biennale of Photography in Italy (2003), as well as the Photographer’s Gallery (2003) and the National Gallery (2007) in London.

Museums including MoMA in New York, the Centre Pompidou, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm held samples of his work. He also won first prize in the Arts and Entertainment stories at the World Press Photo Award in 2004 for his collection of behind-the-scenes images of Paris Fashion Week.

No cause of death has been given. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.