Copyright Henrik Malmstrom 2010 courtesy the photographer
The self-published photobook by Henrik Malmstrom, On Borrowed Time, documents the final months, days and hours of his sister’s passing has really touched me. I found it difficult to write this review, having carried this book with me to Europe and back twice, picking it up often, but then unable to articulate my thoughts in a cohesive manner. I know that this photobook has brought back many of my memories about the loss of my father to cancer many years ago.
Dealing with the pending loss of a loved one is difficult, especially when that person is relatively young. Malmstrom’s older sister Maija first had to initially deal with ovarian cancer at the age of twenty only to find it returning eight years later with deadly vengeance.
Malmstrom in sharing his inner thoughts, states “there was a need for documenting feelings and happenings in front of me. During the years I had seen Maija’s course, her ups and downs. Somehow I understood that these were the last moments. In a difficult family situation different roles are adopted and photographing was a natural way of being close to Maija. Photographing is a way of dealing with reality and feelings.”
Using photography in this situation, one hope is to capture a distinct image that is truly representational of the person such that it can be seared into the brain matter in an attempt to preserve the anticipated fading presence of a real and breathing person. The reality is that the photograph of a person is not the living person, but it may in fact trigger memory and associations related to past experiences
Another use of photograph in this situation is a process of dealing with the unthinkable, that someone you love will very soon not be with you. Doing something other than sitting and staring in a state of gloom can be a cooping mechanism that might get you through an event and distract you, however briefly, from the experiencing the miserable internal pain of pending loss. I sense that photographing his dying sister allowed both Malstrom and his sister a way to deal with the events as they unfolded, to share something, a gift that I think they gave each other.
One the other hand, the photographs that are in this book also captures the dreadful process of dying, “a slow and painful process that these pictures depict”. In his introduction, Jorn Donner states, “The young, except those struggling with serious illness, tend to see reality as something open and infinite…youth is not the time to give any thought to mortality, because you are in a state of growth, you have a desire for knowledge, perhaps even high hopes for the future. It is this that makes the fate of young people dying so tragic.”
The book is a wonderful combination of direct documentary style photographs of the people and events in conjunction with metaphoric poetry that narrates a very touching story. The hardcover book is very nicely printed and bound, with the design and layout of the photographs providing a nice rhythm to his narrative.
by Douglas Stockdale