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Book Review: Tractor Boys


Book Review Tractor Boys By Martin Bogren Reviewed by Tom Leininger Martin Brogen shows that no matter the country, rural young men like driving fast. Bogren puts the reader in the passenger seat with a group of people on the edge of adulthood, doing burnouts in isolated rural areas in Sweden. Grey light mixes with burning tires and photographic grain to create atmospheric pictures.

Tractor Boys. By Martin Bogren.
 Dewi Lewis, 2013.
 
Tractor Boys
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Tractor Boys
Photographs by Martin Bogren
Dewi Lewis, 2013. Hardbound. 60 pp., 39 duotone illustrations, 7-1/2x9-3/4".


Martin Brogen shows that no matter the country, rural young men like driving fast. Bogren puts the reader in the passenger seat with a group of people on the edge of adulthood, doing burnouts in isolated rural areas in Sweden. Grey light mixes with burning tires and photographic grain to create atmospheric pictures.


This is a group that is not open to strangers, let alone ones with a camera, and Bogren has broken through that barrier to document the feeling of the group. Some may find the pictures to be too blurry or too grainy. Judging the work on those technical issues is missing the larger point. These are exciting times, and there is too much energy to be contained in still photographs. The tractor boys' restlessness comes from their isolation. The desolate land does not look like a hopeful place. Working on and driving their cars is an outlet for this pent up energy, which Bogren shows using grey light and smoky atmosphere.

Tractor Boys, by Martin Borgen. Published by Dewi Lewis, 2013.
Tractor Boys, by Martin Borgen. Published by Dewi Lewis, 2013.

The title comes from Swedish law that allows 15-year-olds to drive vehicles that have been converted for agricultural use. Cars become tractors. Though they handle poorly and are speed limited, the boys use their mechanical abilities turn them into country tire burners. Young men will always want drive fast cars as soon as they can.

As an object, the book is small. The end paper shows tire marks on pavement, which is a good design touch. Optima is an interesting typeface choice, and adds a sense of seriousness to the book. The fine printing brings out all of the grey light in the pictures. Christian Caujolle’s excellent essay helps to frame the images in an understandable way, adding that Bogren’s way of seeing their energy is gripping. His vision, one that is slightly out of focus and blurry, gives the photographs weight. It would be easy to dismiss the work based on those facts, but Caujolle is right; it is Bogren’s voice that stands out. The style does not overpower the pictures.

Tractor Boys, by Martin Borgen. Published by Dewi Lewis, 2013.
Tractor Boys, by Martin Borgen. Published by Dewi Lewis, 2013.

Tractor Boys is a look into a closed society of teenagers on the edge of change. Their physical isolation is what takes them to the open patches of asphalt to burn their tires and posture for the few girls present. Bogren tries to contain the energy as much as the medium allows for. In doing so he tells a universal story of men, cars, loneliness and speed in a manner that comes through the smoke and haze clearly.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.

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