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Art Photobook Reviews

Look I'm wearing all the colours by Rikard Osterlund

“Look I’m wearing all the colours” is the first book by photographer Rikard Österlund. A very personal study, which recounts his day to day life with his partner Zara.

Moments of joy and happiness, paired with those of tears and frustration. Certainly, it is possible to say that all of us have to contend with this range of emotions during the course of our relationships. However it is somewhat sobering to realise that Zara has the severe misfortune to be afflicted by a number of debilitating conditions, including fibromyalgia, hypermobility, OCD and depression. An accumulation of symptoms that leave her in pretty much constant pain and mental distress.

From the NHS UK website

“Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body”.

Reading about Fibromyalgia, it seems that there is often no explicable reason as to when or why it may strike. However it is considered possible that it can sometimes be hereditary, and that it may also be triggered by physically or emotionally stressful events.

Terrifyingly, it is a condition that has no treatment, meaning that the best the sufferer can hope for is that the pain can in someway be managed. Therefore -again hopefully- making their life a little more comfortable.

Whilst Zara’s condition may have been the inspiration for this body of work, it is also about much more than that. Österlund, it seems was aware of her illness very soon after meeting her. The fact that it did not “scare” him away, and indeed that they are now married, is proof positive that this couple are lucky enough to be two of those people who have found in each other the unconditional love and support that many can only dream of. Österlund has said that he sees his wife’s illness as almost a third “person” in their relationship, and this project is as much for him to try and understand this uninvited companion, and make sense of what she is going through.

So once again, a starting point that seems to come from a very dark place, has proved to be the inspiration for a truly beautiful and life affirming collection of images. For every picture of a bruised limb or heart breaking portrait, there is one featuring a luminous smile and a bright playful personality.

The work does not seek sympathy. Pictures of hospital visits, treatment rooms, brain scans, are there purely as a matter of fact documentation of their daily lives, and sit along side equally affecting smiling pictures of Zara at the seaside, and sunny days playing on swings.

Indeed Zara’s desire not to be beaten by this condition is also the inspiration for the book’s title and no doubt its design. Colour is for her a weapon, and far from retreating into a shadowy world of greys and blacks, she has chosen to defiantly cram as many bright saturated tones onto both herself and her clothing as is conceivably possible. The book too, featuring fabulously bright clashing boards and endpapers, stands firm and loudly proclaims her war cry from it’s cover “Look I’m wearing all the colours”.

As always there are a number of images from any book that remain with you. In this instance, for me the first is a slightly blurred black and white image taken in a hospital. A familiar, but in this instance (probably due to the dramatic use of monochrome) ominous corridor recedes into the distance. The sign above the door simply reads “No Way Out of Hospital”. The second closes the book and is a simple colour shot of Zara offering us a flower. Two understated, but quietly affecting images. Both of which pack a strong emotional punch.

Love is that most elusive of emotions that all of us crave. Many of us will merely brush with it, like the most delicate of perfumes caught in the air…there… and then just as quickly gone again. A lucky few, however will find that it arrives, settles down, tells us everything will be OK, and stays a while.

Whilst it is an absolute tragedy that Zara or indeed anybody has to endure this kind of illness, it is also a sobering reminder to the rest of us to cherish those around us and never take that love and support for granted.

I hope she keeps on wearing the colours.

This review first appeared on


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