Tractor Boys by Martin Bogren is a beautiful little book that documents a group of teenage boys in Sweden who spend their spare time racing old cars that have been converted for use on farms. The grainy black and white photos have a soft, almost dream-like focus that makes the book more about a time, a place or a particular mood than it does about a specific set of actions. Hit the jump for the full review.
The book centers on a group of teenage boys (and their girlfriends) in rural Sweden as they get together to race EPA tractors – old cars that have been converted for use on farms. These “car tractors” had become popular in the 1930s but had almost disappeared from use as new tractors had come down in price and become more affordable. They were almost forgotten but the youth of Sweden discovered an old law that allowed car tractors drivers to be as young as 15.
Tough rules govern the gearing and the speed is supposed to be limited to 30 km per hour. The cars also have no rear suspension making them extremely uncomfortable to drive at high speeds. But a “tuning” scene sprung up and the young men found a way to bypass these legal and physical restrictions that limit the power and speed of the engines. The solutions they come up are numerous and are closely guarded secrets.
Young Men On The Verge
Bogren’s documenting a semi-secret world that’s closed off to adults and his ability to blend in and become a part of the scene gives the photos a sense of familiarity. Almost as if they’re seen through the eyes of the participants themselves. Each photo is a beautiful work as he shares time with these young men and women. From intimate of boys sleeping in their cars, to shots of girls watching the boys play with a mix of tenderness and concern, the world is viewed with a sense of respect and wonder without judgement.
But the book as much about the relationships between the Tractor Boys and their girlfriends and the photos often drift toward the periphery of the action. The photographs capture the ritual of adolescent courtship – boys showing for the girls and the girls acting like they don’t care. Primal in its execution and tentative in its application. The universality of their interaction draws you deeper into the world of the tractor boys and the closeness to the subjects reveals new truth about your own world.
The desolation and banality of the surrounding countryside mirrors the lonely expression of the teenagers in Tractor Boys. You get the sense that coming together is as important to them as the ritualistic racing.
The book is a stark and honest portrait of young men and women at a specific moment in their lives. A remarkable document of teenagers becoming adults as they cling to their dreams and youthful games.
Update – Video Interview With Martin Bogren!
Tractor boys is to my eyes, a small masterpiece of a book. The time and place is captured so perfectly that you can almost smell the burning rubber on the soft summer tarmac. Each image is almost perfect unto itself but the sequence comes together to tell a story so penetrating and complete that you feel as if you were standing next to these young men and women.
Each image is beautifully reproduced and the small cloth-bound book will be an excellent addition to your library. Unfortunately the first edition is sold out on Amazon and second hand copies are selling for $50-100 USD. You may be able to find a copy at a local book store. If you see one, buy it on the spot.