Nina Persson is equal parts cat and chameleon, Tinkerbell and Pippi Longstocking. The Swedish singer of The Cardigans and solo artist in her own right does not take life for granted; rather, it is something she intends to guide in precisely the direction she wants.

Portraying another human being comes with a responsibility. So much is at stake. You are given a bunch of screws and nuts, but you need to decide for yourself how to use them. It is the same thing if your tool is a piece of clay or a paintbrush, a camera or a pen. Anybody can snap a photo or describe what people look like. But if you are going to capture the essence of a person, you really need to get close to somebody you may never have met before, and that is a different matter altogether. And what do you do if you are met with reservations and a ‘no trespassing’ attitude?

That is the subject of the conversation in the car. A pale yellow Volvo estate car rather advanced in years. Little stickers of pink fantasy animals are stuck on the window. Photographer Petra Bindel sits in the front seat. It is her car, and in the boot is her camera. She has known Nina Persson for close to 20 years – they were both part of Malmö’s creative circles in the 1990s, and even though Nina travelled a lot and eventually left Sweden, they kept in touch. Petra still lives in Malmö, in a house where their mutual friend Emma, who by the way is married to Bengt from The Cardigans, also lives with her family – and where Nina has just purchased a flat that she is in the process of renovating. Tomorrow she flies back to her husband Nathan and their four-year-old son Nils in Harlem, New York, and in a couple of weeks the family gets on the plane in the opposite direction. Home to Sweden.

Nina Persson grips a red can of Coca Cola Zero firmly with her long fingers. She feels safe with Petra, she says and sips from the can. We are sitting in the backseat, her and me. Between us is her bag. It has leather fringes that look like a fence. We have just left the first location of the day, where Petra placed her on a thick branch: “Arch your back, lift your chin, look up, look down.”

Continue reading in Oak volume Four