In 1959, Staffan Wettre and Gunnar Stenstrom set sail on a summer long voyage as deckhands on The Flying Clipper, a three-masted, topsail-schooner, as it toured from the Swedish coast to the Western Mediterranean. Teenagers at the time, both men cite this adventure some fifty years later as a unique and overwhelming event that has been kept alive in photographs and diary entries in The Flying Clipper Logbook just published by Wettre Forlag.
Old photographs, short Double-8 films taken by Staffan Wettre, and diaries discovered by his son Jonas, whose fascination with the colors and quality of the material, drew him to try to assemble it into a book recalling the sights and remembrances of the two men on the verge of adulthood.
Not a sightseeing tour for them for the most part, they were worked to exhaustion between the 27 port stops maintaining the ship's cleanliness and operation. One of their more distinguished guests during the journey was Adlai Stevenson who had lost the presidential election to Eisenhower a few years prior.
Jonas Wettre beautifully pieces the journey together with word and image. The photos, with their blue-green hues are enticingly aged and invitingly sentimental. Behind the camera, Staffan records the shorelines and ports but in his best images he concentrates on images of the crew. One deck hand tries to smoke an entire packet of cigarettes at once while another, Staffan himself, shirtless, stares out to the horizon from the deck railing - an image of youth and masculinity ready to experience boundless adventure.
The Flying Clipper Logbook is a captivating mix of media - Stenstrom contributes a few copper-plate etchings and Paul Ruscha, Ed's brother, lent the title calligraphy. If I had my choice there would be more photographs and a fuller realization. It is a journey into sun and sea which I wish would reveal more of the daily life of the crew. For all of the diary descriptions of the exhausting, non-stop work, the photos seem to describe nothing of the tasks but all of the pleasantries. Of course, there was a time for photographing and a time for working but I still wish for it. Although not intended to be a "photo story" when taken, the photos mixed with the diaries contrast one another and the disconnect is felt, making the material seem a bit thin.
As an object, The Flying Clipper Logbook is well designed and printed. Snapshots and strips of Double-8 film printed with a heavy gloss varnish create added dimensionality to each page and the choice of bright white sailcloth donning the cover is perfect. A blue elastic band holds the book closed and makes for a nice accent. A separate translation booklet in English is provided.
"Sailing is necessary," the quote that graces the back cover alludes to the transformative nature of an act. For these two men, this scrapbook of a summer - this second voyage of bookmaking - may have been another act in which the transformation is realized some fifty years later, but, with a different understanding of its importance.