Erik Johansson: The art of manipulation

Matilda Battersby
Monday 03 May 2010 00:00 BST

Erik Johansson, a young computer engineering student from Sweden, has been taking the blogosphere by storm by producing heavily manipulated photographs which invert aesthetics as we understand them, inspired by MC Escher and surrealist artists.

Aged just 25, and due to complete his Masters in Interactive Design in under a month, he has already been bombarded with offers of work following a wave of interest from blogs and design magazines after he published his innovative photographic work on his website.

Instead of shying away, as some photographers do, from revealing the intense levels of Photoshop work done on the images he produces, Johansson is proud of the technique he has developed and says it is "somehow different from other kinds of art".

Having taken photographs “all [his] life” he developed a specialist design technique that tricks the eye and the brain. His work is humorous and playful, but can also be quite hard-hitting and political.

The Independent caught up with Johansson by phone, as he was eating his lunch at the university canteen in Gothenburg, Sweden.

How have you dealt with the recent exposure you've had?

It’s a bit overwhelming because I’m not really used to it. I haven’t put much effort into promoting my pictures, except for my website. People seem to have discovered them somehow. It’s really fun and has generated some great work opportunities for me. Particularly re-touching work for advertising agencies. I even went to Paris recently to complete some work.

Why do people respond so positively to your work?

I think it’s because the realisation is so realistic. Some of the ideas are quite abstract but when you first look at it, it appears realistic which creates the surprise. Plus, I think the images are somehow different from other kinds of art.

Can you tell us a bit about the production process?

I have been doing the photography all my life but I’ve only been doing the manipulations for about four or five years.

What takes most time in the production process is the planning. With good planning the other steps don’t take so long.

If I have a good idea I will add it to my list of projects that I want to realise. The photography, for me, is a way to get material because my work is created on a computer afterwards. From the idea to the final image, it can take between a week and a month.

You appear in some of the photographs yourself. Why?

Some of the models in the pictures are me, yes, but I try to get other people most of the time as it’s much easier to do. I don't really like being in them myself, so a lot of the models featured are friends and family.

Have you received much attention in your native Sweden?

Not that many people have heard of me here in Sweden. France has shown the most interest in my work.

You’re studying Computer Engineering, which is very different from being an artist. Do you want to do the photography as a career?

I want to do this as my job. It was a just a hobby for several years, but I’ve started to think about trying to make a living out of it more and more.

People don’t usually thing of Computer Engineering as a creative arts subject. What do you think?

It can be creative, but in a more abstract way. Writing code can be kind of creativity you know, in terms of solving problems. My photographs are a lot like that, except they’re creating visual problems by solving them, as it were.

Who or what inspires you?

I get my inspiration from artists rather than photographers. MC Escher, Dali and Rene Magritte and other old fashioned artists mainly.

What are you up to at the moment?

Right now I’m finishing my Masters so I’m not doing any photography. I’ve got a lot of priorities at the moment and the photographs are not really the highest.

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