August Strindberg's old-school selfies at the American Swedish Institute

Strindberg and Harriet Bosse, sort of. 
Strindberg and Harriet Bosse, sort of. 

You may think of the selfie as a relatively new invention to arise in the age of Facebook and Instagram, but it turns out the practice has been going on for quite some time, way before cell phones. In "The Image of Strindberg" at the American Swedish Institute, 32 framed photographs and modern prints of the playwright are on display. The exhibit, produced by Fotografiska, the Swedish Museum of Photography, gives a fascinating look at the infamous megalomaniac and his fixation with himself and his own image.

Strindberg ready for a bicycle ride in 1897
Strindberg ready for a bicycle ride in 1897

According to Krista Ulman, the interpretive services planner at ASI, Strindberg was a master of personal branding. His life was inseparable from his work. "He manipulated people in his own life," she says. "He was obsessed with himself.  

Strindberg didn't care if you loved him or hated him. He was more interested in getting attention. Anyone familiar with Strindberg as a playwright may not be surprised at this news. His plays, though fascinating and layered, can be infuriating as well, given the deep misogyny that's sprinkled throughout. He's one of those writers you love to hate, and that was true in his personal life as well. 

Throughout his career, Strindberg was plagued with controversies, including accusations of blasphemy for mocking the rite of Holy Communion. He got into trouble for writing negative stories about his wives, as well. In response, Strindberg took a series of photographs with his children, but even in those, his family members appear as objects. Strindberg remains in the center of the pictures, with his children as props. 

He had a nasty temper, and though he was addicted to absinth, his biggest outbursts would occur when he was sober. He was prolific, producing eight autobiographies, 60 plays, plus books and thousands of letters. 
Strindberg with his children 
Strindberg with his children 

ASI's exhibit is small, only containing 26 photographs, but it's fantastic. There are some real gems in the collection, like seeing Strindberg in his velocipede, or a bicycle suit, sporting his original hipster look.  

In another photograph, you see Strindberg on one of his wedding days, with his bride's head cut out of the picture. Presumably the cut happened after the marriage fell apart, but Strindberg liked the image of himself enough to preserve the rest of the photograph.  

ASI has already hosted several events in conjunction with the exhibit, including performances by Sally Rousse and Noah Bremer over the summer. The museum has even more events planned for this fall, including A Night of Social Wonder: Brand Makers and Image Breakers, moderated by Mark Wheat from 89.3 the Current and featuring Nancy Lyons from Clockwork Media, Sarah Weimar from NORD, Damon Runnels from the Southern Theater, and Brian DiLorenzo on Wednesday, September 10. On Wednesday, September 17, ASI will screen The Inferno of August Strindberg, a film inspired from Strindberg's autobiographical account of his stay in Paris. Then on September 18 and October 18, ASI hosts a "cocktail tour" of the exhibit, with Strindberg-inspired beer cocktails and small bites from Fika. On Wednesday September 24, Dr. Kjerstin Moody, the chair of the department of Scandinavian studies at Gustavus Adolphus College, will talk about Strindberg's life and work.  Finally, Theatre Coup d'Etat will present Strindberg's Miss Julie in the museum from September 29 through October 26. 

If you can't make it to the events, at least check out the exhibit, especially if you are a Strindberg fan, which is on view through October 26. 
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American Swedish Institute

2600 Park Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407


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