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Car Boot Sales by Jan Malmstrom

1 June 2019

For five years I covered car boot sales in Sweden. In the beginning, I just wanted to document these events as they unfold but very soon realising that this could be a much deeper project and I started to approach the whole thing as if it was a paid assignment. Over the years I visited more than seventy car boot sales and took more than 3000 photos. In the end, it became a book.

The reason? I liked the spontaneous and natural relationship between seller and buyer and that was the magnetic force that initially pulled me – the investigatory photographer – to the car boot sale. There is a special atmosphere at these car boot sales when the summer is warm and people from near and far are arriving, opening up the boots of their cars and with busy energy starting to display their goods, thinking: what will I sell today? Who will I meet? While the buyers filled with anticipation are wondering: what will I find today? Will it be the bargain of the century?

I very soon started to become a familiar face, especially amongst the sellers, who showed up on a regular basis. I started to interact with both them and the buyers and after a while got to know the rhythm of things. From the regular sellers, I learnt a lot. What to sell, how much to charge, when to say no to a persistent buyer who wanted to drop the price too much. But I also picked up a few tips and trick from regular buyers. The importance of arriving early, to stay focused, to wait to make an offer until you have chosen a lot of things from the table.

There is obviously a darker side to this as well. Many parents were very hesitant when they saw me pointing the camera towards their children. Quite often they came up and starting to intervene and interrogate what the hell I was doing. It is horrible that we have come to this stage that parents are afraid their kid will end up on a dubious website. I very quickly changed tack asking the parents for permission before even aiming the camera to any child. I also found that having a stack of small prints in my photo bag was useful to show explain to them what the project was all about.

Many times I also had a heated argument with older people who didn't want their photo taken. Most of them usually calmed down after some explanation. For some, I learnt that is was no point to stand there and start to explain the law to them. I just had to go about it in another way.

I usually went along with a wideangle plus a standard lens. An 85mm was in the bag as well if needed.

Malmstrom's book Car Boot Sale is available from Amazon.

Jan Malmstrom's passion for photography started in the mid-seventies when he purchased his first proper SLR at the age of about thirteen. Although photography was always there, his profession was originally in graphic design and advertising. In his work as an art director and later creative director, he employed many photographers over the years and learnt a lot by being inquisitive and interested when partaking in different photo shoots. You could say this was his training ground for becoming a full-time photographer himself in 2000. There are two areas of interest that dominate his professional photography; interior and portraits. He divides his time between Cambridge and Sweden.

See more work by Jan Malmstrom

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