Per Englund Likes Spying on People in Their Cars

He stands at his window and takes photos of them without them knowing.

Oct 4 2012, 10:00am

Swedish photographer Per Englund, who's taken photos for VICE more than a few times before, released his latest photobook last week. Since I'm the kind of girl who likes to help a brother out, I thought I'd tell you guys all about it. Hey, no worries – it's fine. The book is called Passenger Seat and is essentially the by-product of Per living with his girlfriend in a tiny flat that overlooks a traffic light. The couple spent pretty much the whole of 2007 working out of bed on their laptops, gazing out the window at people sitting in the passenger's seat of cars and taking photos of them, which he then compiled to make this book. 

I thought I'd give Per a quick call to chat about the lives of people neither of us know anything about, besides the fact that, one day, they were sitting in a car in Stockholm. 

VICE: So Per, from the text in your book, I get the feeling that you and your girlfriend got kind of sick of each other from living in that flat.
Per Englund:
Not really, no. I don't think we were at the time. It was a very special flat to live in, but it was pretty cramped, so I tried to find alternative ways to use the area. My girlfriend was also working as a photographer, so we ended up working a lot at home, instead of going for the "spare time" activities that couples usually get into when they're living together.

What activities do you mean?
Well, we didn't really have a kitchen, for example. So the whole cooking-together thing that couples normally do didn't happen. We either worked or watched a film together, which is why I focused on that story in the book, because I wanted to explain how this series of photos came out of living there for two years. 

That's a pretty long time. How many photos of people in their cars did you manage to take?
I guess it's around 500 photos, then there are 30 that I actually chose to publish. I was taking photos of a load of other stuff going on in the street during that time, but when I noticed how big my collection of car photos was getting, I thought I'd focus on them. I got a little manic when we were moving out, though, and just spent my whole time standing by the window.

Did you capture anything that wasn't appropriate to publish?
Not really. I saw quite a lot, but nothing that distinguished itself too much, which was kind of a surprise, considering I'd been watching for two years. I mean, you'd imagine something weird would happen within that time. I chose the pictures in the book in a bid to make it as coherent as possible. I wondered about who these people were, where they were going and their relationship to each other, so hopefully that comes across in the book.

Do you know if anyone saw you taking pictures of them?
I actually thought about that a lot. Depending on the light, I was pretty visible and I always look up there every time I'm passing now to see if I can see anyone. I never can, though. Also, I doubt people in the cars would ever look up or assume someone was taking photos of them.

Didn't you ever feel a little creepy?
Yeah. Sometimes I thought about how it might have appeared if someone saw me and how I would have felt seeing someone watching me while I was in my car. I also use to think about if there was someone else who observed my observations. Maybe there was another mad person standing in the flat opposite mine, watching me.

Maybe there'll be some other book released soon about you.
That would have been pretty interesting. But I don't know. I often feel that, wherever I am, there's always someone watching. But you never know who, or why.

There are constantly new photography books coming out. What makes this one different?
To me, photography books are such a natural forum. It's a way to finish things and I think of this book as an art object. The pictures are one thing, but it isn't until the book is finished that the entire thing is done. It's like the end of something. Also, this book isn't about the individual photos on their own, it's more about a wholeness, the mood and the way I've presented the whole thing. The communication between the photos and the layout of the book makes it interesting. Each story is unique in its own way and I don't really look at other people's work. Obviously people have done similar stuff previously, but that doesn't really matter to me.

What are you working on now?
I always work on different series. The pictures in Passenger Seat have been laying around for some time. So it's not like I've only been working on this book for all those years. I've been working on a lot of other stuff on the side. My last book was released in 2009, so that was when these photos already had been stocked up. I always work backwards in time. I always make sure I have new projects running. And I need them to grow for a while to become interesting. I don't like to publish stuff that's entirely new. I need to distance myself for a few years. Right now, I'm working a lot with still lifes, objects, seasons and nights.

So I guess we'll have to wait five years to see what you're doing right now?
Maybe. That's how it normally works.

Fine, make us wait. Thanks Per!

To launch the gallery click here.

More stuff about photographers we like:

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Charles Cushman's America

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