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Monday, March 24, 2014

"Surrealism with a touch of humor": how photographer Erik Johansson sees the world

"Cut and Fold" © Erik Johansson

This year I started a new feature on the blog: showcasing the work of new photographers. The thing that amazes me every time I discover a new talent is how young they are. It seems to me that digital photography has given young adults a new means to express themselves, especially when it comes to conceptual photography. If you haven't done so yet, start following Colossal and My Modern Metropolis. Besides discovering lots of new artists you'll be blown away by how many of them are under thirty years of age. Wow!

One of such amazing young talents is Erik Johansson, a Swedish photographer who's now based in Berlin. Erik picked up his first camera at age fifteen and, interestingly, as he says in his bio:
"Being used to drawing it felt quite strange to be done after capturing a photo, it wasn’t the process of creating something in the same way. Having an interest in computers made it a quite natural step to start playing around with the photos and creating something that you couldn’t capture with the camera."
I can totally relate to that! And what Erik creates is not only unique: it's intelligent, mind-blowing and thought-provoking. It's not by chance that Erik's most inspirational artists are Salvdor Dali', René Magritte, and M.C. Escher.

As Erik defines it himself, his style is "surreal with a touch of humor", and it's exactly that "touch of humor" that I find so captivating in his images.

"Cover up" © Erik Johansson

"Fish Island" © Erik Johansson

"Groundbreaking" © Erik Johansson

I asked Erik a few things about his artist statement and his background. Here are his answers.

EJ: I don’t capture moments, I capture ideas. To me photography is just a way to collect material to realize the ideas in my mind. I get inspired by things around me in my daily life and all kinds of things I see. Although one photo can consist of hundreds of layers, I always want it to look like it could have been captured. Every new project is a new challenge and my goal is to realize it as realistic as possible.

EEG: Most photographers emphasize "in camera" work, meaning that the more you manage to accomplish with the camera, the less time you need to spend post-processing. Looking at the many "behind-the-scene" videos on your website, it seems that you "embrace" the post-processing work. How long does it usually take to realize one photo from idea to final piece?

EJ: It can take anything from a few weeks to several months. Some ideas require even longer time as it’s hard to find the perfect spot to shoot, or maybe it’s the wrong season.

I’ve always had a big interest for both drawing and computers. I think that is one if the reasons why it was a natural step for me to modify the photos in the computer. Photography and retouch always felt more like a hobby so I choose the engineering path instead. As I finished my studies in 2010 I already worked part time as a freelance doing work for some advertisement agencies in Sweden. Although I still find interaction design a very interesting subject, photography and retouch is my passion and what I love. That made me become a full-time photographer/retoucher when I graduated.

EEG: I also come from a drawing background and I can relate with the feeling that a single snapshot is not satisfying -- creating an image is where the fun begins, no matter how challenging. What's the most challenging image you've made and did you ever feel like giving up in the middle of the process?

EJ: Every new image is a new challenge. a I always try to create new and more complicated photos. Sure, I feel like giving up sometimes, then it's just good to leave it for a while.

EEG: You shoot a Canon 5D mk2 and a Hasselblad H5D, a 40 mega-pixel camera with a huge sensor! While I can totally relate to shooting with a 5D mk2, I can't even begin to imagine what it is like to shoot a Hasselblad (yes, I'm drooling here). Can you tell me a bit about that, i.e. what projects do you use the canon for and what the Hasselblad?

EJ: Well, it's a heavy and slow camera, but on a tripod it captures amazing details. It hasn't really changed the way I work that much more than I get even more details in the photos. It's a great camera but it's not really that much about the equipment. It's about what you can imagine!

EEG: And one last question: if you could speak to Escher in person, what would you tell him? :-)  (I think he'd be very proud of you!)

EJ: He was a great artist and big inspiration, I think I would like to talk to him about how geometrics and mathematics goes hand in hand with art.

EEG: Yes, that would be fun, for sure.

I leave you with the Behind-the-Scenes video of how Erik made "Cut and Fold", the picture at the top of the post. Amazing, right?


  1. Absolutely phenomenal!!! The amount of work and skill involved to produce a piece of art.
    Excellent interview E.E. Giorgi


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