Book review: The Morning Dip by Peggy Anderson
“What began as a project photographing Swedes wearing bathrobes, in the small coastal village of Torekov, has evolved into a deeper examination of my own heritage and relationship to a country where I lived as a child and now spend every summer. In Sweden, Torekov is known for it’s local pier, ‘Morgonbryggan’, so called for the popular tradition of a daily morning dip in the sea. Nearly all locals are avid disciples of this sacred ritual which can be both solitary and social. There are unwritten codes of behavior associated with this activity, including the selection of one’s wardrobe. But more importantly, the bathrobes and the ritual are a continuous link to the past. Through the slow process of working with a large format film camera, I am gaining insight into this community, my native country and my place within it.” – Peggy Anderson
I found this book to be very comforting and also engaging. A seemingly straight collection of portraits of people who all engage in the same ritual, a morning dip in the cold Swedish sea, transforms into a collection of people who share something greater than themselves. Formality is dropped, bare knees are exposed, and wet hair which would never see the inside of an office building is captured for all to witness. The event is personal and public all at the same time.
Anderson’s hometown of Torekov, Sweden, is not so different than where you live, in the grand scheme of things. You probably have a morning ritual of your own. Coffee, news, gazing out the window to gauge the weather or such. And if you live in America like I do, your hometown may or may not have a pier, a coast or anything close to the name “Morgonbryggan” associated with it. But any associated daily ritual will do. Whether it’s a visit to the corner bakery just below the Metro stop on your way to work to grab a coffee and scone, or getting fuel and local gossip at the county farm co-op store before picking up new fencing again for the cattle – we all have sacred rituals. There are indeed codes of behavior related with these activities: always ask for raw sugar if José is working, because he’s new, or if you even mention the Pacers game score, Connie will talk your ear off for an hour. Or, select the socially appropriate bathrobe for your dip in the sea. These rituals form a rhythm and a sense of balance which is commonly overlooked, no matter where you live. Taken for granted as part of ‘just how it is’ – but nonetheless, it is a core thread in the fabric of life. These might seem like routines, more than ‘rituals’ but I believe the bigger picture is more important.
The essay text in the book by Lyle Rexer calls into context the socio-cultural photographic work of Bernd and Hilda Becher, August Sander – and I will throw in a contemporary reference to Niall McDiarmid for his portrait work of people around the UK – but Rexer and I both come to the conclusion that the nature of slowing down and attending to people through the act of making a portrait is the key to revealing all sorts of nuance and big-picture thinking. The people in Anderson’s images couldn’t have predicted the scope of the work in which they appear. How could they? They were merely being present in their own lives. Anderson’s wonderful project revealed the aspects of culture and commonality shared across all those terrycloth bathrobes and beautiful morning sunlight: we are all a part of a bigger picture. Anderson attentively found something beautiful, memorable, and definitely worth capturing in the place she had called home. And for the rest of us who don’t hail from Torekov – we all behave and interact within our own related circles of life. José, Connie and Gustav all overlap in much the same way. All it takes is slow, careful interaction, and the ability to listen to others, and glean insight into what makes us all ritualistic creatures of habit.
The Morning Dip
by Peggy Anderson
Published by Kehrer Verlag
19 x 24 cm
108 color illustrations
Peggy Anderson is an artist/photographer based in New York and Sweden, currently living in Paris. Anderson graduated from The International Center of Photography (ICP) Creative Practice program in 2013. Even with earlier careers as both a hospital nurse and in the food world, she always had a passion for photography and visual culture. The Morning Dip was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2020, and has been exhibited at Fotografiska. Her other signature project and book, Subway Readers, has also been exhibited at Fotografiska. Some of these images are in the collection at The Museum of the City of New York. Anderson is on the board of The International Center of Photography in New York. Since 2012, she has co-chaired the annual ICP Spotlights benefit honoring women in the visual arts. She is also on the board of The American Friends of Moderna Museet in Stockholm.