Taking the adage about walking in another man’s shoes to its literal extreme, Leif Claesson creates an uncomfortable hybrid between art and document in his series ”C/O”( Care of ).” In these large-scale diptychs, Claesson photograps the clothing, detritus, and makeshift shelters of the homeless population in the parks of southern Stockholm; the artist then photographs himself standing in for the unseen transient, sometimes even donning his castoff clothing. Turning the tradition of socially concerned documentary photography on its head by adding a postmodern performance twist, Claesson creates images that are jarring, even unsettlingly humorous.

Some of these photographs were made without the consent of the person Claesson presumes to represent. Thus the artist walks a fine moral linet o confront us with our own prying curiosity, repulsion, or simple lack of acknowledgment of those who are allowed to fall between society’s  cracks. To climb into the soiled clothing and bedding of a stranger requires an urgent sort of empathy, and Claesson’s facial expression reflects both dejection and a glimmer of accusation. If his remote engagement with the homeless population he depicts is ultimately futile, if he has failed these invisible, unlucky inhabitants of the park, so have we.

The topic of homelessness was also addressed in Claesson’s 1995 CD-ROM project ”Parken” in which he photographed and mapped found objects in the same area of Stockholm. The objects sometimes hint at sordid activities of the park’s habitues; a double condom lying in shards of glass, the words ” Drugs make things easy…” written on a cigarette pack, however, the objects also hint at narratives we can never know: a mysterious totem made of a bottles and feathers, a phone number scrawled on a page torn from a passport, an album of photographic portraits from the turn of the century, each portrait painstakingly labeled with names and dates. These objects  spek of displacement, desperation, and madness, of pilfered goods and hasty exits, but they also begin to tell nuanced stories of individuals with pasts, with families, with emotional lives. Through his rigorous collecting and recording, Claesson present the mysterious physical traces of the homeless as proof of their existence – of their humanity.

Joanna Lehan   Text from the catalog "STRANGLERS the first ICP triennial of photography and video"


Photographic pictures of the outcast, the poor and the abnormal is a genre in it self. There are many a photographic life achievement that have been spent dismantling, exploring and visualizing the Others. We can see a need for this in our culture. A need that is not just about knowledge and control, but a wich for an altered parallel world. A mirrored world that inverts the middleclass norms and patterns that are normally used when depicting our reality. Where there is a breathing space from the dominating norm. A break of the pattern. From the subcultures can new patterns evolve that enriches and becomes incorporated into the mainstream culture. But the observation of the Others often has another purpose; to affirm and strengthen the middleclass perspective.

Even if many photographic depictions of the outcast, the poor and the abnormal have been done with the best intentions, they always face the risk of being read through the middleclass and thereby used to strengthen the current order. Then can the photographs of the reality be used as a weapon, a defence for status quo. The audience is offered the possibility of empathy, but in this feeling is she given he proof of her superiority and power. Through the tears of compassion she is given the possibility to confirm her own excellence and good fortune. Through the fascination of the unfamiliar can sexual fantasies be projected and lived out by proxy, without the guilt. Classic examples of this are the notion of the raw sexuality of the blue-collar worker and presumed virility of the black man. 

Leif Claesson`s pictures can be seen in this context; his themes have the same strong social charge. They relate to the homeless and the effects of a harsher social climate. But there are decisive differences. Instead of pointing his camera at the homeless, he put himself in their position. He depicts himself as one of them. The camera, the photograph, the view and the story points, through this change of viewpoint, its power and its violence primarily at him. He also gives shape to the snooping element that this is inherited in every photographic project in this genre; the element that is about showing someone else´s weaknesses, inclinations and capacities. All of this is attached to him.

Leif Claesson is probably committing some kind of moral transgression when he dresses himself in someone else`s clothes-maybe even in the cases when the owner given his consent-but this transgression might still be negligible compared to the display of power he would have showed if he would have pointed his camera directly at the owner of the clothes. Claesson does not make any statement on anyone`s behalf. He steps into the others position, even if its only temporary. An attitude that traces back to the classic Cristian traditions as well as it gives life to an identification of both personal and class related character. A test of the liberating and terrifying thought that this could have been me.

Hans Hedberg  Previous headmaster of Valands school of fine arts in Göteborg