Black and white photo of a young boy wearing a hooded coat, poking out from a small window with a glum expression

Julian Slagman photographs the nonlinear journey of boyhood

The photographer’s first book follows his brothers as they journey through adolescence, and reflects his belief that “growing up does not follow a simple timeline”

“I have been photographing my brothers for the last ten years, watching them grow up and seeing myself growing up with them,” says German-Dutch photographer Julian Slagman on his series Looking at My Brother, which has previously been awarded the Aenne Biermann Prize and shortlisted for the Carte Blanche Students prize. Newly published as a photobook by Danish imprint Disko Bay, the body of work forms Slagman’s most extensive to date.

Based in Stockholm, Slagman has long been fascinated by the medium of photography, explaining that “the photographic image cuts itself through time on every level”. He continues: “It’s surgery. Like a doctor sealing a wound, with careful stitches. Like me, sealing light onto film.”

A boy with light brown hear wearing a white t-shirt while lying down
Black and white close-up photo of a boy's back which has a large vertical scar running down it

More than a beautiful comparison, this analogy actually speaks to one of the key themes within the work. The human body, and in particular the scars that adorn his brother following a surgical procedure for scoliosis, is a prominent feature in Looking at My Brother.

Mixing individual portraits with group shots, the book follows the boys as they journey through adolescence, navigating the world around them. Intimate compositions reveal moments that are by turns pensive and playful, wild and serene.

A boy in a pool of water hovering behind a plastic panel curtain
A boy with his eyes closed lying on a bench while wearing a light blue Adidas track jacket and a bright yellow vest over the top

We see the brothers hug, wrestle, swim, run and explore. They pose for revealing close-ups and unknowingly fill the frame for candid shots. There is the sense of a slow passing of time, as the faces change, and the bodies grow, but this process is not presented in chronological order.

“It became very clear to me that the edit of the book could not work chronologically,” writes Slagman. “I wanted to keep big gaps and jumps in time and work mutually opposed. Turning the pages and jumping back and forth in years, days and hours, even seconds, underlined this feverish dream of coming of age. This slightly disorienting experience of reading the book [was] very interesting to me.”

A boy underwater
Silhouette of a boy with his arms outstretched standing in front of a piece of light fabric

Slagman explains that this feeling is further cemented by his choice to pair certain images together that were taken only moments apart, giving the impression that “the camera [is trying] to keep its subjects in time and place, while they move forward, backward and to the sides.”

As such, the experience of boyhood is communicated authentically, shown through snapshots that speak to a fragmented journey many young boys go through – “one day you can feel strong, confident and without doubt about yourself, and within moments all this inverts”.

“Growing up does not follow a simple timeline – it is a process which unfolds itself on many layers and in all directions at once,” he says.

Looking at My Brother by Julian Slagman is published by Disko Bay;