The “Last night in Sweden – The true story” project is being driven by award-winning Swedish photographer Jeppe Wikström's Expressions of Humankind foundation. Planned to be released as both a book in English and Swedish as well as a touring exhibition after its crowd-funding campaign hit its target within half a day, the first copy will be sent to the man who inspired its name – US President Donald Trump.
Wikström, who previously created similar projects like “A day in the world” and “A day in the life of Sweden” has enlisted the help of Sweden's best photographers for the new campaign, and promises it will show the reality of his home country – both the good and the bad. He spoke to The Local in an interview about the new concept, which he hopes will challenge the “alternative facts” being spread about the Nordic nation.
How was the idea for the “Last night in Sweden” project born?
We previously created the project “A day in the world” where we had photographers in 190 countries documenting life. So basically what we're trying to do is document the things that don’t make it to the news: everyday striving, everyday happiness, work.
If the world actually was the way it looks in media, it would be a terrible place. There would be shootings all the time, bombs and terrorist attacks and celebrities everywhere. You wouldn’t be able to walk the streets without celebrities having all sorts of scandals! But that’s not the way life looks. We want to create a counter-point.
And especially towards all of those who come with lies about Sweden, or to put it mildly, alternative facts. In a way, yes, we're reacting to Trump’s silly statements (either he's stupid or he's lying). So it’s a response to that, but we’ve also done projects like this before, because we think that everyday life matters, and it’s important.
We're sending a message not only to people in Sweden but the entire world. We've had calls from friends abroad asking 'can you really go out at night, it must be terrible?'. It’s easy for us to know when we’re here that we’re not being shot at in the streets and so on, but if you’re in the US, southern France, Russia, you don’t have anything to compare it to, you just have to trust the news sites that you visit. That’s the information you get.
Is it important to take back control and tell Sweden's story from within Sweden?
It's precisely like that. As photographer Paul Hansen puts it in the film (below), we are better equipped to tell the story of Sweden, because we know what's going on here.
What is it about Sweden that seems to rub some people the wrong way right now?
We rub people the wrong way, and are a benchmark for other people at the same time. I think it's because we manage to combine diversity with success. We do have high taxes, but we also have a very successful business life. Companies like Skype and Spotify come from Sweden, Electrolux, all sorts. It’s an interesting combination which according to the ones who smear Sweden shouldn’t work. So they have to smear us to justify their view of the world.
How long have you been aware of the negative image of Sweden being spread in certain sectors?
It has been on my personal radar for many years. The speed this has evolved at in the last few years is incredible. From Russia Today, to websites on the extreme right in Germany, France, not to mention the US. It has always been like that though. Eisenhower with the myth of Swedish suicides, Swedish sin… People have always, for some reason, loved to smear Sweden.
Is there anything you think is particularly important to illustrate about Sweden with the images?
There are many beautiful things to say about Sweden. We can talk about sport, for example, how much effort and joy we put into that, music, democracy.
But there are also issues we need to address. One thing we talk far too little about is the conflict between the countryside and city. There’s no other country in Europe, I feel, where the countryside is becoming depopulated at the same speed as Sweden. It’s an issue you can see all over the world, but it’s really visible in Sweden.
This isn’t a project that is done by Visit Sweden. It’s not a tourist story, it’s the true story. There will be everyday challenges and problems here as well.
So it’s about showing reality, both good and bad?
Yes, and this book will contain a healthy portion of self-irony too. Swedes are aware of the quirky behaviour we have. We take off our shoes before going inside, put money into the right position and make sure it’s not so wrinkly before paying at a cash register. There are so many silly things we do in Sweden. Not to mention surströmming (fermented herring), among other things.
I think if you look at democracy, for example, then there are all those heroes, tens of thousands of them in Sweden, who spend much of their spare time dealing with schools, buses, cleaning the streets in different city councils around Sweden. There are many stories like that to be told. With a bit of a wink, too. A healthy degree of self-awareness.
Donald Trump at the Florida rally where he made his 'last night in Sweden' comments in February. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP
Does crowd-funding give the project extra legitimacy? It proves that everyday people find this to be important.
That's a really important part of this. I’m sure we’ll get crowd-funding from all over the world (editor's note: the campaign achieved its goal during its first day). People are fond of telling the truth, it’s part of our DNA I think. People get fairly upset when lies are told, and this is a nice way of telling the true story of everyday life, by doing a project like this. The book will be the main vehicle, but there will also be an exhibition, I’m sure there will be other outcomes from the selection of the images.
Do you know where the exhibitions will be?
It’ll be a touring exhibition. It’s really early days, the pictures will be taken during the spring and the book divided into seven chapters, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, etc.
A still from the promo video for the project. Photo: Christian Andersson
Will you be taking any of the images?
I’d like to participate as well. I’m a photographer and would feel envious if I didn’t participate. All of the best photographers in Sweden will participate, so it’s a bit like a national championships in photography.
How long will the campaign run?
30 days. We’ll have goals along the way too. We’re asking for 100,000 kronor and the challenge isn’t to get people to pay 10 kronor, it’s to make them aware about it.
This is the perfect tool for anyone who wants to contradict lies about Sweden. Just put this book in the hands of the people who are saying these things. It’ll make them quiet, and make them smile.
The “Last night in Sweden” project achieved its Kickstarter crowd-funding target within six hours of being launched.