"The Back of the Family Album"

By Marie Lundquist


Published in Svenska Dagbladet March 6 2008

For more than 20 years photographer Kent Klich has followed the heroically struggling Beth R, an orphan and a drug addict. The other book in which Beth is a co-author with her diary is a call to all of us to create an environment where every child is seen and met with kindness, writes Marie Lundquist.
”There is nothing more important, more influential, or potentially more destructive to us humans than family”. These are the words of photographer Kent Klich in his photo book “Picture Imperfect”. For more than 20 years he has followed a Danish woman, Beth, as well as providing flashbacks to her early life as an orphan. Beth may be the victim of a social failure; but she is not in the least described as one. She has been fighting heroically to recreate the love she was robbed of by her parents, early damaged by life themselves. With her self-reflecting intelligence and dramatic capacity of formulation she takes the edge out of all attempts at simplified classifications. “For the first half of my life I've been locked up in institutions, for the other half I've been a drug addict”. This is the blunt way in which she sums up her life in “Beth's Book”, a photo classic in the documentary genre from the late 80's, also made by Kent Klich. Already here, Beth is very much the co-creator in making the photographic representation of her life so succinct and impossible not to be moved by.
So she is also credited as co-author with Kent Klich in the new book. A book that closes the circle and tells the story of a heroic descent into hell made by a woman with an inherited social stigma and who has been fighting ceaselessly to maintain her dignity. The book is accompanied by the DVD-film “Beth's Diary”, elected best documentary short film at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival.
”Picture Imperfect” – the title may be read as the flawed, incomplete picture. But also as a negation of the expression “picture perfect”, an American reference to the family album. The book about Beth is very much a family album, if a highly twisted one. There may be the pictures of everything “normal”: family gatherings at nicely set tables, awkward teenage hugs in well-furnished living rooms, class photos from the early 60's resembling my own ones. Page by page with these pictures are shattering exposures of interiors with Beth naked, sitting on the floor with her legs parted, searching for a vein in her groin in which to inject. Over the years there are numerous hospital records and observations made by various authorities concerning Beth. In 1954, at the age of five, she is characterised thus by a nurse: “Alert, lively and daring – quick on the draw with words. A bundle of energy, tricks and ideas. Aggressive and dominating towards other children. All over the place, especially where least expected. Starved for love – and wraps the entire staff around her finger”. This affectionately piercing look at a personality which is at turns both fragile and strong, full of contradictions and lively, is shared by photographer Kent Klich. The most lasting impression of his and Beth R's insistent and multi-facetted book is that it precludes the option of dividing the world into us and them. How different our preconditions may appear, there is more to unite us than separate us as human beings.
Without letting go of his photographic professionalism Kent Klich expands the role as photographer to become a sharer of Beth's life. A prerequisite if a project like this one is to have any chance of being completed. Here he, the internationally recognised photographer, puts his photographic art at the project's disposal and subordinates it to the story he wants to tell. Without making any difference he mixes his own pictures with old black-and-white amateur snapshots. Beth, the main character herself, also participates as a photographer with two almost idyllic pictures of her cat. Everything has been accounted for, without hierarchies or dividing lines.
The description of Beth's life is more than the story of a human fate. It is first and foremost a powerful call on society, i.e. all of us, together to create an environment in which every child is seen and met with kindness. Together, both of Kent Klich's books about Beth offer a testimony to the human condition in contemporary life, putting them on a par with documentary classics such as Stefan Jarl's film series “A Decent Life” and Rainer Hartleb's films about the Jordbro children.