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Surrealism in Erik Johansson's photographs creates a world of alternate realities

Swedish photographer and visual artist Erik Johansson with his rich body of work brings together disparate situations and objects together to keep the viewers attentive.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Oct 21, 2022

The photographer and visual artist Erik Johansson from Sweden, now based in Prague in Czech Republic, evokes a world of surrealism through a combination of photographs in his oeuvre on photography. Rooted in conceptual ideas, Johansson’s photographic practice is not limited to the truthful translation of physical reality to a digital space but opens a field of multiple realities. The orchestrated setting of the photograph encapsulates the multitude of narratives, to let the viewer choose a story to relate to. What makes his works interesting is the viewers enter the story, composed in the photograph, as a character, who finds an account of tales. 

Erik Johansson, Stay Warm, 2021 | Erik Johansson | STIRworld
Erik Johansson, Stay Warm, 2021 Image: Courtesy of Erik Johansson

The visual narrative refrains to follow a linear narrative. It is as if the viewer is following an undefined path of a terrain, which is punctuated by an assembly of objects. The surrealism at work in the photographs conjures a world of alternate realities to push the viewers to look for a point of origin. When the photographs are populated with a series of props, the light and perspective become two important elements to accentuate a look of the real place. As the certain sections of the photographs are impossible to shoot in a physical location, a scene close to it is recreated in a controlled environment. Since the works are bent towards larger-than-life syndrome, the photographer has a careful understanding of not just photography but execution in terms of location and post-production techniques.  

Erik Johansson’s portrait, made while capturing the project Comfort Zone, 2019| Erik Johansson | STIRworld
Erik Johansson’s portrait, made while capturing the project Comfort Zone, 2019 Image: Courtesy of Erik Johansson

For Johansson the inspiration lies in the contrast between things, “a contrast can be a lot of different things but sometimes it can be a contrast between colours, warm meeting the cold,” explains the photographer in an interview with STIR. This contrast is made feasible in the magical time of night, which Johansson sees as a space brimming with inspiration. Talking about the presence of midnight blue and light in the photographs such as Stay Warm and Looking For Star, Johansson discloses, “Maybe it is something about what the night hides, the mystery of it. My work is about finding a balance about the story that I want to tell and how to present it in a visually interesting way that captures that viewer's attention.” 

Erik Johansson, A Place Like Home, 2022| Erik Johansson | STIRworld
Erik Johansson, A Place Like Home, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Erik Johansson

The photographer who sometimes does commission work enjoys the challenge of working together with an agency/client towards a common goal. The ideas are a bit different in his opinion as commissioned work is about selling a product, and personal work is more about Johansson’s reflection on the world that surrounds him. But set design is important for both commissioned and personal work, the idea decides what has to be built and done, and the only reason to erect sets is to make it look better in the end. The ideation and set design are crucial to his practice. “The process from start to finish can be pretty long but what usually takes most time is usually the planning. Finding ways of how to capture something that does not exist. What is practical to build, and what is possible to combine in post? The challenge of making it look real even if it's impossible,” says Johansson. 

Erik Johansson, Looking for Stars, 2019 | Erik Johansson | STIRworld
Erik Johansson, Looking for Stars, 2019 Image: Courtesy of Erik Johansson

In the photograph Your Opinion is Important to us the ear supported by a scaffolding stands across an equally mammoth manual loudspeaker. The photograph could be seen as a visual metaphor of fall on deaf ears. The idea for Your Opinion is Important to us came from seeing one of many customer surveys. “I was thinking does really anyone listen? Who is this for? I started thinking that this is also a question for us in our lives as well, who listens, really listens? The idea with the giant funnel and ear grew over time and I started making sketches of how it could look. I finally made the final sketch and went out to shoot it in spring this year. The retouching took a couple of days and I published it this summer,” mentions Johansson. 

Erik Johansson, Full Moon Service, 2017 Video: Courtesy of Erik Johansson

In the ongoing outdoor photo festival at La Gacilly, the photographer presents a series of works around the bridges. His new work A Marvel of Engineering follows his passion for the photographs of impossible bridges. When such a body of work finds a place in the open environment, it adds a contextual life to the work. Johansson mentions, “I hope my work can be inspiring and make people think differently about the world around them. My exhibition in La Gacilly (France) and Baden (Germany) is a collection of my work from the past 10 years. Every image is its own story, like a window into another world.” 

It is this search for a possibility that one undertakes while gazing at an impossible world composed in the photographs.    

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