Photographic Artist Erik Johansson achieves photorealism in surreal, mind-bending compositions that would make M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte beam with pride. And he uses a video-type workflow.
When it comes to photography, there’s definitely a spectrum in play. At one pole, you have photojournalists, those brave souls who often fling themselves into harm’s way, trying to capture a moment with a single click that resonates well-beyond its frame.
Erik Johansson stands firmly at the opposite pole. Snapping a photo is just the beginning for the young artist, who, at the age of 25, already lists Google, Microsoft and IKEA as clients. His visual compositions take extensive pre-planning and post-process compositing and retouching to produce their stunning results.
Paintings that leak out into the ‘real world’. A bulldozer scraping asphalt in a destructive game of tic-tac-toe. The light from an overhead bulb burning a hole through the floor. Staircases that wind into one another, ignoring the laws of physics. Johansson’s photographic work confounds and exhilarates with answerless riddles that stretch the imagination, calling to mind the surrealist masters of yesteryear.
Is it photography?
There is some debate in the photographic community as to whether such work should even be called ‘photography’. Photography, after all, is defined by most as what happens when you hit click, not what happens after it. In contrast, Johansson sculpts his art at a computer, often employing over 100 layers to stitch it together. Personally, I don’t think it really matters if you call it photography or photographic manipulation. It only matters that it touches you, makes you feel something or see the world in a different way. It only matters that it's art.
What about video?
So, how can this help the video professional? Well, Johansson’s production process mirrors visual effects workflow. (There’s a reason why people describe Adobe After Effects as ‘Photoshop on a timeline’.) But more importantly, the next time you find yourself in a rut, repeating the same creative choices, check out something that forces you out of your comfort zone, something daring and difficult, that evokes a world with a drastically different set of rules. While it may not alter the meat of your talking heads documentary, who knows? There’s always the title sequence...
Erik Johansson's TED talk on creating "Impossible Photography"