Interview: Erik Johansson

Erik Johansson is a photographer and retoucher from Sweden based in Prague, Czech Republic and Sweden who works on both personal and commissioned projects. He also does unusual projects like street retouch pranks or anamorphic illusion installations. Erik enjoys challenges and playing with people's perception of what we think is reality. He has worked with major international clients such as Volvo, Toyota, Google, Adobe, Microsoft and National Geographic. The artist’s goal isn’t just to capture moments, but to capture ideas. With the help of his camera and Photoshop, his intent is to make his images look as realistic as possible so that the viewer feels as though they could step right into his work.

He says "I think growing up on the Swedish countryside had a big impact on my visual style. 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. I feel like I'm just getting stared for real, there are so many more projects waiting to be put to life."

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Tell us a little about your background.

I studied computer engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden from 2005-2010. I graduated in 2010 with a Master's in Interaction Design.

I've always had a big interest in both drawing and computers. I think that this is one if the reasons why it was a natural step for me to modify the photos on the computer. Photography and retouching 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 freelancer doing work for advertisement agencies in Sweden. Although I still find interaction design and UX a very interesting subject, photography and retouching is my passion and what I love. That made me become a photographer/retoucher full-time when I graduated.

So you always had a strong interest in photography, but didn’t study it specifically?

Yes, I am self-taught in both photography and retouching. I discovered that it was fun to change and modify photos for fun in the year 2000 when I got my first digital camera. I've always been drawing for as long as I can remember and when I got the camera I felt like I wanted to do something more with the photos. I started playing around with the photos on the computer and discovered photo manipulations.  For me, the realism has always been very important and it’s a challenge to make a sketch come to life in a photo. I learned by trying. It took some time and I'm still learning, but when you learn the basics of the tools it’s just the imagination that sets the limits.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I get inspiration from all things around me. Anything from things I see in my daily life to other artists' work and music. I think it’s a lot about looking at the world from a different perspective. I get more inspiration from painters rather than photographers and visit art blogs and websites like deviantart, twistedsifter, and thisiscolossal frequently for new ideas. 

Are there specific artists you can point to who have had an impact on you?

Here are some of the artists who inspire me…

Salvador Dali – Spanish surrealist painter
M.C. Escher – Dutch graphic artist
René Magritte – Belgian surrealist artist
Rob Gonsalves – Canadian painter
Jacek Yerka – Polish painter
Shaun Tan – Australian illustrator
Mattias Adolfsson – Swedish illustrator
Sven Nordqvist – Swedish illustrator/author
Thomas Öberg - Singer in bob hund

Can you describe the process you go through to make one of your works or does it vary?

Simplified, the process is divided into three different parts. It always starts with a sketch, a simple idea. Not many ideas get realized, but if I think it’s good enough I decide try to make it happen.

The first part is planning. Once I’ve come up with an idea that I think is good enough to realize, I need to find the places I need to shoot to put the photo together. This can take anywhere between a few days to several months, sometimes years. This is the most important step as it defines the look and feel of the photo, it’s my raw material. This step also includes problem solving, how to make the perspective, reflections, materials and realistic light, etc.

The second part is shooting/collecting the material. I never use stock photography in my personal projects, I always want to be in complete control of my photos and feel like I've done everything myself. It limits me in a way that I can’t realize all ideas I have, but limitations are good sometimes to define the work. The same light and perspective is extremely important to create a realistic result when combining the photos.

The final part is putting the photos together. This takes anywhere from a few days to several weeks. This is actually the easiest step, if I did a good job in the first and second step. This part is like a puzzle, I have all the pieces, I just need to put them together.

Thanks so much for sharing your story! For more of Erik’s art you can visit his website or follow @erik.joh on Instagram.

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