Petersen was born in 1944 in Solna, Sweden. He left home at 18 and traveled to Hamburg to seek something new and exciting, this is where he came across Reeperbahn; the red light district of Hamburg. Here he met Finnish Prostitute Vanya and fell head over heels in love with her, he would follow her around the streets of Reeperbahn and she introduced him to the bar that made him famous, the Café Lehmitz. The romance soon ended though and Petersen left Hamburg.
Petersen decided to go back to college and pursue a photography program, he wanted to be a fashion photographer “I saw how these fashion photographers lived, with the beautiful girls and big parties, and decided to follow that road”. Whilst studying he came across a particular image that changed everything for him, it was a photograph taken by Christer Stromholm. It portrayed a Parisian graveyard in the winter with footsteps in the snow.
He soon abandoned his ambitions to become a fashion photographer and contacted Stromholm for work. Stromholm photographed transvestites in Paris, this inspired Petersen to go back to Hamburg, back to the Repperbahn and back to the Café Lehmitz. Petersen lived and photographed dancers, prostitutes, sailors and transvestites for the next three years.
He held his first exhibition at the Lehmitz where he printed 350 portraits, stuck them to the wall, no frames, no names, and allowed people to take them home if they were in the photograph. “It only lasted four or five days, until there were no pictures left…just a small one of me. It was still there ten years later.”
After a while the images were published in a book name ‘Cafe Lehmitz’. This was a turning point for European photography, Like Robert Frank, Petersen had documented the people who surrounded him, portraying his own life through others.
Petersen has continued to work in the same way since the 1960′s, he becomes part of the community he photographs, whether it being convicts, old people’s homes or psychiatric patients. “To me, it’s the encounters that matter, pictures are much less important.”
Christer Strömholm (1918-2002), born in Stockholm, is one of Swedish photography's major personalities. Strömholm's pictures from the early fifties consist of sharply-focussed black and white compositions of walls, shadows and clear-cut interiors. While periodically living in Paris during the 1950s and 1960s he developed a style more in tune with street-photography and it was at this time that he made his famous portraits of transvestites at the Place Blanche.
JH Engstrom lives and works in Stockholm. Teaching at the famed Danish School of Art Photography Fatamorgana. Engstrom’s Learning to Dance (2005) is an autobiographical collection of images reaching back as far as 1990. This eclectic body of memories capture that fleeting moment with a sensitive and provocative touch.