From Farm to Digital Surrealism

My first art related memories are time in the library with children’s books immersed studying pictures

Continent Erik Johansson

What differs us from other species is imagination. Playing with it we develop ourselves using toys when we are small. We grow up and start to call them ‘tools’, they are more expensive and complex but still helping us to be creative and develop. A good camera in professional hands brings to life ‘manipulation of digital imagery of unconnected things into a coherent whole that gives the observer pause for thought to make sense of what is seen’, Erik Johansson, our new columnist, photographer and visual artist from Sweden, explains his approach to image making.

As much as maturity brings the benefit of understanding, it comes with the loss of childhood wonder at all we see. My first art related memories are time in the library with children’s books immersed studying pictures. Water colouring was in the family and as much as I would like to do the same, photography became my medium. My photography does not seek to catch the moment but, as the journalist Robert Krulwich commented, exists to produce a meticulous fantasy which is part photograph, part construction, part drawing with so many layers of foolery in the images, the illusion cannot be pulled apart, it fits together so perfectly.

Am I trying to recapture that childhood wonder? Probably not, I just like what I do.

I’m from a farm northeast of Gothenburg and the sixth generation of my family on that farm and the first to have a choice to follow a career away from the land. One of my sisters and her husband stayed on the farm ensuring the continuity of the family. Memories of the area often come into my photography with its small red painted houses. I left home to study engineering and maths at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and earned extra cash during the five years retouching advertising agency pictures and gradually photography became more important to me than engineering.

What I took from engineering was the method of problem solving by breaking down the problem into its components and resolving each in turn. Now in my mid 30’s, I am convinced that most people have at least some talent but generally the importance of talent is overrated, hard work counts for much more. I never studied photography and am entirely self-taught and sometimes this goes against me when I make mistakes but I aim not to make them a second time.

I got my first digital camera at fifteen and eight years later started surreal imagery. For personal reasons I moved out of Sweden, first to Berlin and then Prague, where I live and work and have a studio.

The time taken to make a picture can be days or months. The photography and post production are often much less in time than thinking of the idea and planning its creation. I balance everyday objects into unexpected groupings and this puts my work into surrealism. Unlike Salvador Dali, at least I fervently hope so, a modern-day George Orwell won’t write of me that I am a great artist but a revolting human being.

My main camera is a Hasselblad H6D-50C. The camera has outstanding resolution and perspective and its layering of depth of field works in the same way as the eye. I use Adobe Photoshop for post-production but as good as it is, the final image can never be better than the first and is why although relatively heavy and expensive, the $20,000 H6D-50C camera price tag is worth it. Printing for exhibitions is on 180 X 135 cm sheets and the H6D-50C’s colour capture comes into its own.

The Swedish Hasselblad company has twelve worldwide Ambassadors and it says ‘At Hasselblad, we are proud to work with photographers around the world — photographers who are at the top of their game in their respective field’ and it’s a pleasure to be one of the twelve and the only Swede.

Much of my work is private commissions but a steady stream of revenue generation comes from photographic book sales through my publisher Max Strom and individual signed and number prints. I hope to bring my work to the attention of Moscow collectors for future book and print sales. The organisers reported that in the first week there 2,000 attendees which is enormously pleasing.

The internet has been good for photography. Sites promote the image artist and like-minded people are generous with constructive criticism. This feedback is valuable and does a lot to develop my technique and artistic horizon.

Northern European landscapes are my preferred scenes although I wouldn’t rule something further east and in the same way I’d like to move into film and video but they are complicated and at the moment I don’t feel comfortable with a change.

If I had to choose a single picture, one that I like and am pleased with, it would be man pulling a country road as if it were a carpet that was taken twelve years ago and it can be seen on the web under my name. The picture works because both line and colour have exactly merged the two separate images. The Canadian painter Rob Gonsalves, who died two years ago, exactly captured through his brush the images I seek to make although I think if anything my work has less of his calm dream-like atmosphere.

Increasingly my work is based on an underlying conviction that the world is more surreal than before with its strange ignorance and leaderships. The big divide between the rich and the poor, the greed and inequality and if I could I want to capture these thoughts. Balance is important and I want to continue with magical things as well as specific topics coloured by the environment and sociological concerns. My driving force is a wish to please others by doing the thing that pleases me. I am by nature a perfectionist and my passion is to make others see the world from a subtly altered perspective.