Photography is just the starting point for new Hasselblad Ambassador Erik Johansson and once he’s pressed the shutter his imagination gets to work and he sets about creating the most extraordinary flights of fancy.Cutting Dawn
Welcome to the extraordinary world of Erik Johansson, where almost anything is possible and the unexpected suddenly becomes the new normality. So you might find an idyllic island that actually happens to be the back of a giant fish, a watermill that’s perched on the very edge of a giant green cliff or a road that rises up and opens like a giant zip fastener – wild flights of fancy that look real enough to be believable until your rationale kicks in and tells you that it can’t be true.
A visit to new Hasselblad Ambassador Erik’s website is a revelation, a journey to the surreal, and the man himself revels in the quirkiness of it all and dreams of his next flight of fancy. It’s been the same way ever since he first discovered photography, and his creative drive is fuelled very much by the influences he had as a young man growing up in a small village in the middle of Sweden.
“I was raised on a farm with my two younger sisters and I spent a lot of time around nature,” he says. “For as long as I can remember I’ve liked to draw, maybe because my grandmother happened to be a painter, and when I got home from school and my mum asked me how my day had gone I would draw a comic strip to show how it was.
“My dad was working with a computer from the mid-80s onwards, so I was used to this technology from childhood and enjoyed escaping to other worlds through the games I could play on it. At the age of 15 I got my first digital camera, a very simple point-and-shoot model, but it opened up a new world to me. Being used to the process of drawing it felt quite strange to be done after just pressing the shutter release. From the very start I felt like I wanted to do more with my photos and I started playing around with them on the computer to create something that you couldn’t capture with the camera, mostly very basic modifications like changing colour or putting my little sisters on top of our roof! That’s how my interest in photo manipulation started and I taught myself the techniques I needed. It didn’t become a profession for me until years later.”
Building a career:
In 2005 Erik moved to Gothenburg to study computer engineering, with the idea of making photography his living far from his mind. But while he was there a friend showed him a DSLR that he’d just bought and it was so far in advance of the previous model that Erik had used that it inspired him to invest in one of his own. The seed was sown and from here he became besotted with imagery and the idea of using a photograph as the starting point for something more adventurous, by now having a clearer idea about how he could bring his anticipated end result to life.
“I had a lot of ideas in my head,” he says, “and much of what I was doing was problem solving, trying to make things look as realistic as possible. After publishing some of my images online I started to get some retouching work from local advertisement agencies, and then I began freelancing in parallel with my studies while still working on my personal projects.
“Eventually I got more and more jobs and by the time I finished my studies with a Masters in Interaction Design I was set on following the path of photography, at least for a while to see how it went. So I moved to Norrköping in the eastern part of Sweden and became a freelance, and then in early 2012 I moved again, this time to Berlin.
I believe that inspiration lies in the contrast between things, and I couldn’t imagine a place with more contrasts than Berlin. I had four great years there but in November 2015 I moved once more to Prague, and this is where I’m currently based. I’m still new to the city and am excited to see what it can bring to my work.” Despite his travels Erik has never forgotten his Swedish roots, and so it was natural in many ways that he should choose to work with a Hasselblad, his model of choice, until recently, being the H5D-40, accompanied by 24mm, 120mm and 35-90mm lenses. However, having had the opportunity to try out the new H6D he found himself completely captivated by the latest Hasselblad flagship, and he’s now moved to the latest model.
“Although I spend a lot of time in post the final image I produce can never be better than the original material I start out with,” he says. “Shooting with a digital Hasselblad has really taken my work to the next level in terms of the details I can capture: it’s not just the high-resolution files it gives me but also the way it captures the colours. I will never be able to go back, and I feel totally confident using the system to capture the best material possible.”
“While I’ve always considered the camera I use as being just the means of capturing the material I need to create the image I have in my head, I still consider the Hasselblad to be by far the best tool for that job.”
Living in the commercial world:
While personal projects still form a big part of his life and he’s regularly selling prints of his work, Erik is now also in big demand from commercial clients such as Toyota, Volvo, Adobe, National Geographic, Microsoft and Google, and he’s increasingly finding himself working on jobs that can take him all around the world. His strict rule is always to keep the two areas totally separate: “I never licence my personal work,” he says. “I don’t want my personal projects to be commercialised or connected to any product or brand in any way. It’s important to me that they’re stand-alone projects without a connection to anything. However, if I’m commissioned it could be that someone might come to me with an idea that’s tied in to my style and then I can be a part of the idea process as well, which is a lot of fun. I love doing my personal projects and but it’s also satisfying making someone else’s vision come to life.”
Proof of the growing recognition of his work by the world at large arrived just recently when Erik was named Nature Photographer of 2015 by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. It was a prize that surprised and delighted him in equal measure since he doesn’t consider himself to be a traditional nature photographer, but it was a sign that others see the influences of nature in his work.
“I think growing up on the Swedish countryside had a big impact on my visual style,” he says. “A lot of the environments in my photos are captured near places I know, around my parents’ home with wide open landscapes and small red houses. Inspiration is everywhere and once you learn the tools you’re only limited by your own imagination. Last year I turned 30 and I feel like I’m just getting started: there are so many more projects waiting to be brought to life and it’s an exciting time.”