Tuesday, August 10, 2010

K.W. Gullers - a Life in Photography

       Rhonda's great uncle, Swedish photographer  K.W. Gullers
    from the archives of the Nordic Museum

  When you are a child, there are certain people and experiences that help form future ideas and directions.  Having had the great fortune of traveling the world by the ripe age of 12, my family and I finally settled in Fairfield, CT to be close to both New York City (where Dad became "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" part one million) as well to be near to my Swedish-American family.

During the summers, I would play with my cousins and my Aunt Ittan's Father, the great Swedish photographer KW Gullers, would visit.  He would always bring with him the latest books he had published, and to me, it was always thrilling.  I loved how his images captured Swedish life so vividly that even I, who had never been there, felt a sensory connection to this seemingly far off land and culture.  Little did I know that years later, Edie and I would be involved in a business that would follow a path directly back to Sweden.

In hindsight, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that Karl  (K.W.)  is smiling down from up above.....and I say "Tak" for the gift of those inspiring images that helped me fall in love with Sweden!

KW Gullers:

Karl Werner ( K.W. ) was born in Clara Church, Stockholm in 1916.  His father Emil was a lawyer and farmer's son from Rising, Östergötland, and was one of the founders of what is now the Liberal Party.  His mother, Anna, was a teacher.  KW Gullers grew up in central Stockhom as one of five siblings.  At twelve, KW recieved his first camera, a Kodak Brownie box.

In 1932,  he began to work for Anders Forsner, who was the leading photographer in Stockholm.  The salary was fifty dollars a month and a typical work day was from eight in the morning until seven at night.   It was with Forsner that Gullers recieved a thorough photographic decipline and training.

At the young age of Eighteen, he traveled on a scholarship from Borgarskolan to England.  This adventure laid the foundation for his emphasis on photojournalism, protrait, and fashion photography.

Back in Sweden, Gullers began to work with  a Dutch photographer known for his distinctive bright portrait of the high-key procedure.  For three summers,  he also worked as an air photographer for Aero Materiel AB, which was owned by the brothers Florman. 


In 1948,  he published "Sweden From The Air" which was a compilation of fifteen thousand images he shot while at Areo Materiel.

In 1938,  Gullers started his own firm, Studio Gullers, in Stockholm.   His wife Ingvor and the highly skilled copyists Magda Persson, joined him to form Studio Gullers.

Later, Studio Gullers, in addition to KW, represented many other photographers, such as his son Peter and Bjorn Enstrom who both worked there for twenty-five years.  Stay Trenter, son of Stieg, and Tore Johnson were also represented.

                                K.W. and buddy, author Stieg Teiner, up to no good as usual!
Tiener's famous detective character Harry Friberg is based on K.W.

On September 1, 1939 German troops invaded Poland and World War II had started.  Gullers was called up to duty in 1940.   While on active duty,  he met Swedish author Stieg Trenter, and started working together.  They were inseparable until then Trenter's death in 1967.  Gullers became Trenter's model for the famous detective, Harry Friberg, in Stieg Trenters detective novels .

Foreign Ministry, in 1940,  assigned Gullers to a special mission as the official photographer.  He was called to photograph the Government and the various arms of service...

Swedish naval force as portrayed by K.W. Gullers

...images that would be used for propaganda purposes, and sent to the Swedish diplomatic missions worldwide.

K.W. photographs Gustav VI Adolf, 1942

In 1942, had his first exhibition, " A piece of Sweden", at Piccadilly Circus in London.  The pictures were mainly from the Swedish propaganda,  but also documented the government, royal families and the Swedish industry.

                        Guller's  moving portrait of Swedish poverty appeared in "Family of Man"

The years of 1938-46 were a prolific period for KW Gullers whose primary work involved working with a number of Swedish and foreign magazines. Unlike most photographers,  he also wrote himself .   This proved very helpful and unique in the world of photo journalism as he was to find out.

The Swedish Photographers Association

1953 Gullers became chairman of the Swedish Photographer's Association.  Serving for four important years, KW was an enthusiastic chairman who, together with, among others, Kerstin Bernhard and Karl Sandels actively addressed standards for training and  photographic fees which set in place a structure for the photographic industry as a whole.  Gullers was also influential in creating the League 's international contacts during these years. Additionally, he was active member of the Nordic Federation photographers for fifteen years,  as well as a founding member of Europhot (European Association for the Photographer Organization) .

The color

1957 was a breakthrough year for color photography in Sweden which by now could produce high quality photographs on Kodak's C - paper.   Color was used primarily in advertising,  but soon,  weekly press began to use color images.   Gullers became one of the first studios with its own color laboratory, and for twelve years produced thousands of photographs a week.  From 1957 onward, his books were exclusively in color .

Gullers image collection to the Nordic Museum

In 1990, The Nordic Museum in Stockholm,  purchased the KW Gullers image collection from the years 1938-78.  The collection consists of approximately 470 000 negatives , black / white and color , most of the 6x6 format . There are also approximately 5000 archival copies of size 24x30 cm and over 100 000 contact sheet.  The collection also includes a negative ledger,  a copy of the first editions of sixty two titles,  press cuttings and two cameras (the Kodak Brownie and a Rolleiflex).  The acquisition was made possible by support from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and the Nordic Society Museum and Skansen's Friends .

In conjunction with the purchase of the collection, The Nordic Museum arranged a large exhibition called " KW Gullers - Picture Memories " at the museum.  Shown were images from the 1940's  and 50's with Sweden as the theme.

With the addition of the KW Gullers collection to the Nordic Museum's archives,  it has solidified his status as a national reporter with the camera that doubled as a note book.  His images are a photographer's vision of Sweden during the period ranging from 1938 til 1978.

Our favorite Images:

Self Portraits

C. 1950's

C. 1930's


KW and Charlie Chaplin

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bregman and Alfred Hitchcock

Gregory Peck

Orson Wells

John Steinbeck

Masters of Design

Bruno Mathsson

Bruno Mathsson at home

Carl Malmsten

New York

Duke Ellington



Prins Bertel

Prince Carl XVI Gustaf











Carl Milles Studio

A Beloved Swede

Astrid Lindgren

And Finally, Family

My Uncle Neil and my Aunt Ittan, K.W.'s daughter, on their wedding day
in Stockholm

To learn more about the photography of K.W. Gullers please visit the Nordiska Museet


  1. What a post! What a man! I so enjoyed this and will definitely go and see his work when I am home in Stockholm next month.
    I loved all the photographs and his style is amazing.
    Thank you for sharing.

    x Charlotta

  2. Rhonda, I am slowly picking myself off the floor. What an interesting, informative and well written post! And all the images. What an amazing photographer, and what an amazing life - meeting all those people!

    Hope your summer is going great. Just got back from Stockholm. The apartment I was staying in might be something for your book? See my latest post, if you have a moment.

    Love to you both, Mon

  3. Dear Charlotta and Monika,

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments. This post was truly a post from the heart! Mourfar, as I called Karl, was really such a charming and lovely person. I am sad that he passed before I had a chance to share what Edie and I were doing, but somehow...I think he knows!
    XO to you both and again, many thanks!!!!!

  4. Rhonda, what a fabulous post. Gorgeous images, such a unique style. My absolute favorite is the little girl in front of the blackboard. Thank you so much for sharing his brilliant photographs.

    ps. I found your blog while reading my old copy of "A Shop of One's Own" again.

    xo Lidy

  5. Did you know Lena, Ittan's sister? I knew Lena when she was a student in the U.S.

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  7. mark.kohio@gmail.comMay 21, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    Would just like to say this was a great read,
    We have a few originals of his books and its always amazing to see what a talanted photographer he was, sad I didn't have the chance to meet him.

    And to Bob,
    Lenas daughter Annika is my girlfriend so it was pretty interesting seeing her mentioned here.

  8. K.W.Gullers produced a remarkable body of work. His images are never repetitive or derivative of the work of others. He is a master of light and shadows. It is unfortunate that he is not better known and appreciated in the United States. I have the good fortune of owning a handful of his large format prints that, oddly enough, I rescued from under a table at a flea market about thirty years ago. Each one is a compelling image. Thank you for the comprehensive background and sharing his marvelous photographs. Mark Glovsky, Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA