Photographers capture uniqueness. Fashion photographers strive for new faces. Conflict photographers are present, when history is made. And some folks, like me, go to hidden places with an own narrative. Like the car cemetery of Båstnäs, deep within the forrest maze, where Sweden touches Norway
Since the beginning of the Internet, there have been pages and rankings about the craziest abandoned places. Maybe the Internet was just invented for that, besides cat content, that is of course. I think there is some sort of longing for a dystopian future without people, even just for a brief moment.
Båstnäs claims one of the prime spots in such lists. One of the reasons is probably it’s remoteness. This special place so deep in the forest, that you have to follow quirky instructions from fellow adventurers to get there. The closets point of civilization is the village of Töckfors which is 20 unpaved kilometers away.
Sweden in the summer is a great Nordic paradise. Majestic lakes embedded in a carpet of green hills and trees. Fresh air and characteristic red wooden houses. I am drawn to its nature like Murphy's jam sandwich sunny side up hitting the floor. This summer I was visiting the film festival my good friend Ronny offered me a ride back to Kartoffelland.
So I was presented with a opportunity and Båstnäs popped up in my mind. Because the only way to get there is by car. I threw in a bundle of benjamins for gas and off we drove to the cemetery of metal and rust. As we wanted to get back to mainland europe at night we started very early to Båstnäs, after we had slept in the next big city close to it, which was Karlstad. Wise decision. It took a bit of time to find it, but you have to take a leap of faith and dive deeper into the maze of Sedish forests.
When we arrived at Billkirkengarden ved Ryn, Töcksfors Båstnäs (that’s the exact name) we met only two people, a German photographer and his model, who had spent the night there. I indulged instantly into this brave new world and for the next three hours I tried to explore the furthest corners of this apocalyptic universe.
There are cars everywhere, it seems, that they are connected through a invisible band. It’s like on organism of metal and grass. The forms of the cars, which are mainly from the forties to sixties, are very organic. Round in shape, as it was the period of futurism and optimistic, bold design. French, American, Italian, Sweish and German classic designcars from another era.
For some this last shelter for the kings of wheels is eerie. I think it is poetic. Even if I had limited time I believed this place, tried to read it, feel it. It is a world, that is intact in it’s brokenness. Because I do my photography always fast and on the run I have a focus for scenes, that look good, give contrast in the little light, that there is. As an analogue photographer you really have to focus, to your technical abilities. As I knew, that the scenes will be very similar, I also experimented a lot with different films and I am very happy about the outcome.
There are a few legends about the origin of the car cemetery. The most plausible one is the Nordic car market in the 1950’s. It was after the war and the markets were created a new in Europe. There were almost no private cars (like in North Korea now) and the import of new cars was illegal.
Two Brothers named Ivansson saw an opportunity in this situation and opened a car repair shop in 1955 exactly here at the border. Besides fixing cars for the domestic market they realized a gap in the jurisdiction. Despite the stop on imports for cars, there was no such rule for spare parts. So it was technically possible to desamble a car at the border and to reconstruct on the other side.
Because it is so close to the border, there was always smuggling, the aura of the forbidden. Båstnäs is split by a road, which is called sugar road, because it was used for trafficking the white sweet grain. The area is so dense and rough, that it is a perfect landscape for dodgy business.
The demand was high and the Ivansons had sort of a monopoly. On top they sold broken cars, scavaged others for spare parts and within a few years more and more cars came to this little forrest. As Sweden is a large country with vast distances, there has always been high demand on cheap transportation. Until 1986, when the Ivansons stoped shop, a huge amount of 1000 cars was accumulated in Båstnäs. It is also one tale, how the automobile industry developed in Europe.
There are incredible structures, that were created over the years. Cars on top of each other. Gaps within a canyon of metal. It is a world, where nature has taking back traces of the civilized world.
But Båstnäs is not dead, it is very alive. The colour of moss is blending with rust. Trees explode through the windows of muscle cars and ferns found shelter in the engine of true vintage cars. And this is all looking different depending of the time of the day and the weatherscape. But the force of nature, trying the best place to grow and the most unusual places is amazing.
One plant captures my heart in an instant: moss. It really looks like some living creature, that could survive everywhere. It molds around any kind of structure. Moss on the chassis, on old tyres and within the interious. It literally drips from car roofs and depending on what film you use it really transports a different atmosphere.
Light is key, especially for analogue photography. I am bound to a certain light sensitivity, if I want to shoot from the hip. Fortunately it was a sunny morning, when I arrived, I was looking for the swath, the exposed glades within the forrest to set contrasts. Båstnäs guided me by the rays of the sun.
The beauty of it the natural force. There is a curation by nature, a green narrative. I love the poetry of how meta, rust and plants blend into each other. You could get lost wandering in the forest looking for pieces of the past, you might even pass cars, that have been decomposed.
There are voices by villagers nearby, who want to clean the forest. That would be almost an barbaric act against art and culture, because Båstnäs has been becoming this creation over a duration of half a century. This is man-made culture -- manipulated by nature, a museum and a touching testament of time, where technology meets life at its core.
But even environmentally it would be foolish. There are examples of other cleared car cemeteries, that the movement of the vehicles was they greater harm to such areas, because of leaking oil and the heavy duty machines, that would be used in order to move tons of metal. Not in my point of view it should remain. The Ivansons and their sons still run the place, but they are seldom to be seen. With the influx of people coming, there are more cases of vandalism.
The few wooden houses in the forest, that belong to the brothers, were entered in the past and left in a pitty state by a few idiots. So there are a few signs asking for keeping off property. Sometimes with rather drastic measures. The mighty Ivnsons threat trespasser with the use of guns. Well, I guess in the wild north, especially at the sugar road, people take the law in their own hands.
So how secret is this infamous abandonded place now? Well, for us it was good to arrive in the morning. There was this brief moment, that weh ad Båstnäs all to ourselves, a fairy photographic plaground. But within a few hours it got crowded. Mostly families and old couples, who came with their RV’s. Maybe this car cemetery is already featured in some travel guides and I guess the weather and the day of the week counts, too. It is still hard to reach, so you have to be mobile and better arrive early, if you don’t want to stumble upon other people.
So there you have it. I am glad I had this powerful encounter. It couldn’t fail and when I arrived there I had the best three hours on my Sweden trip. I was super excited and told my story through my eyes and pictures. Now it is up to you to write your own chapter at the Båstnäs car cemetery on the edge of Sweden.