I’ve been creating since I was a child. I have early memories of drawing in my sketchbook and my fascination with cameras. Somewhere along the line I chose photography. My first “real” camera was a Praktica with two lenses.
In school I had very high grades. It was easy for me, at least the studying part. The social part however was not easy. It got better in senior high school, but it has left me with issues that I, as an adult, still have to deal with. I went on to study for a degree in computer science. I don’t think it was a decision coming from me, but rather from society and my surroundings.
That’s what you do, right?
Get good grades, get a degree and get a good job. That’s what you should do with your life.
After I graduated as a computer engineer I settled into a safe non-challenging “normal” life. Days, months and years flew by in a blur of endless repeating workdays and weekend parties. I kept on photographing as a hobby and by this time had developed into a rather skilled photographer technically, but not artistically. By lack of confidence I did not do what I wanted to, but what I thought you “should” do. In my creative work just as in life in general.
For a long time I quite enjoyed this life, but there was something missing. I had this drive to do something more, but I had no idea what to do with it. Slowly and without really noticing it, or at least acknowledge it, I lost direction and began spiraling downwards until I in my late twenties finally hit some sort of bottom.
And it was there. Deep down in my own personal abyss I found what art is to me. As a sort of therapy I started creating pictures. I stopped trying to make what I thought was “art” or “good photography” to others and made pictures just for me, because I needed to. I stopped caring about what other people might think of my work and stopped playing it safe. By crossing that line I was free to tell my own stories, and by crossing the line from photography into photo montages I had the tools to actually tell those stories.
In this work I found something I loved doing and something I could be proud of. I found a purpose, and with that purpose a way to start climbing upwards out of the hole I spent so much time digging. It has not gone straight up, and it has not been an easy journey, life seldom is, but I’ve kept on climbing.
I think this is the awesome thing about life. Without the bad stuff you can’t have the really good. Without living through my bad stuff, I would not have found my art.
When and how did your interest in photography develop?
When I was 15 years old I got my first “real” camera, a Praktica with two lenses. It had no autofocus and the metering did not work. I spent endless hours experimenting and shooting as much film as I could afford. It was then I really decided that what I wanted to do was photography. I needed a way to express myself, and instead of playing in a band, painting or writing I chose photography.
What followed next were several years of intensive photography but it was first when I could afford a digital camera that I really started to develop, thanks to the fact that I could see the result directly in the camera, the whole process of trial and error was sped up tremendously by not having to wait for the pictures to come back from the lab.
Since then I have tried several areas of photography, portraits, concert photography, street photography, nature photography and everything in between. I can’t tell you why I chose photography, but there is something about it that really speaks to me. Even nowadays I can still feel that excitement when I know that I just captured a great picture, often when something unexpected happens in front of the camera. No matter how well you plan your shoots, there is still an element of chance involved and I love that about photography.
When initially getting into photography you practiced within the constrictions of traditional photography. How did you make the transition of creating traditional art to creating Digital Art through photography and photo montage? And also, what attracted you to this particular style of photography?
About five years ago, during a rough period of my life, I started creating surreal photo montages dealing with my feelings and inner life. Although I have always felt a “need” to create I don’t think I ever thought it to be about more than just creating pretty pictures. This time it was different, it was a way for me to try to sort out what was going on inside me, I stopped trying to make what I thought was “art” or “good photography” to others and made pictures just for me, because I needed to. I stopped caring about what other people might think of my work. By crossing that line I was free to tell my own stories, and by crossing the line from photography into photo montages I had the tools to actually tell those stories. The reward was twofold, it helped me as a sort of therapy and in my art I also found a purpose, something I love doing and can be proud of.
I think that we all in our own way search for answers, trying to make sense of life, the world and being. For me, this is something I do through creating pictures. The genre, Surrealism, was not really a conscious decision. I did not actively choose surrealism and did not have very much knowledge about different forms of art. I just started doing work that felt meaningful to me.
What inspires you?
That varies. I read a lot and watch lots of movies and find inspiration in that. My main source of inspiration though is music; I always listen to music and could really not imagine life without it. Despite movies, music, books and other external sources of inspiration; I still feel that I need inspiration from inside myself, my life and my experiences. I need to have something to say that comes from within, otherwise there is no real point in creating. I would just be re-telling someone else’s story creating meaningless, empty imagery.
Who are some of your favorite artists and/or photographers?
Since I’ve tried so many types of photography my influences have been many and diverse, and from classic photography and arts rather than from Digital Art.
Early on it was the great masters of photography like Cartier-Bresson, Leibovitz, Erwitt, Brassai and so on, too many to name. I consumed a lot of photography and had new favorites every day. When I started doing photomontages I started to learn more about the great painters and artists from other fields, like Warhol, Picasso, Magritte, Miró and Escher. I have learnt a lot both as an artist and as a person by studying greatness in all fields of art be it music, photography, painting, poetry or anything else. It is very developing and humbling to look at your own work in that context.
What other types of art did you explore before discovering your passion in photography? Are there any types of art that you still engage in creating today?
When I was younger I did a lot of drawing and I still draw occasionally, but creativity does not have to be only “artistic” in form and I’ve always loved creating in one way or another. When younger for example building with legos or with the sand on the playground and when older, for example building web sites. There’s something about creating something out of nothing that I love.
You are a completely self-taught photographer. Tell us, during the process of experimentation and learning, what things did you find worked best for learning? (Reading, watching tutorials, assisting, shooting self-portraits, etc.)
For me it’s all about being curious, “learning by doing” and experimenting a lot. Of course, the Internet is a fantastic source of knowledge and I can’t imagine how I would have learned (and still be learning) without it.
What’s on your gear list? (Cameras lenses editing software, etc.)
I don’t really pay much attention to the technology-and equipment part of photography. I buy only equipment that I really need and that somehow improves my work. I shoot with a Canon EOS 7D and 5D, mostly equipped with a L 24-70/2.8 lens. In studio I use lighting from Elinchrom and a really sturdy Manfrotto tripod. Editing is done with Photoshop on a somewhat high-end PC.
How important is Photoshop and post-processing to your works? On average how would you compare the time spent working and shooting in camera versus editing afterwards in Photoshop?
I always try to do as much work as possible in camera. Well planned and photographed source pictures are a much better option than doing excessive work in Photoshop; in my opinion camera work will always have better quality and look better than something put together in Photoshop. If you do the photography really well you could technically just print your pictures, cut out the parts you want with scissors and paste them onto an empty piece of paper and be done with it. This is of course not possible, but I find it to be a good reference to have in mind when planning my composites. In reality I would say I spend about an equal amount of time behind the camera and in front of the computer, although sometimes I can fiddle with the finishing touches in Photoshop for hours.
From 2010-2013 you worked on a series titled “Reality Rearranged.” Tell us about this series. What was your biggest triumph during this series? What was your greatest struggle?
Reality Rearranged series is my first try at describing reality through surrealism. During the two and a half years I worked on the series I used my own inner life, thoughts and feelings as seeds to my pictures. In that sense the work is very personal, almost like a visual diary. This was my first try at working focused with a coherent body of work over a longer period of time and I learned a lot both technically and about how to work as an artist.
As for the biggest triumph; like I mentioned in an earlier question, in this work I found something I love doing. The greatest struggle, I think was, and still is, time. There are only so many hours in a day, and to be able to practice my art I have had to sacrifice a lot of other things. My kind of artistic work can also be lonely, by its nature it’s something I can’t do together with other people. In the end though, it’s worth it because I love doing it and as the years have gone by I’ve become better at balancing my life.
What is your favorite photo from the “Reality Rearranged” series?
My opinion of my pictures and the meaning I put into them changes with time and my mindset, but one picture I’ve always been fond of is Torn:
I made it four years ago and it still speaks to me on a very personal level.
Tell us about your work in progress titled “Solitaire.” Your series of images are so beautiful and poetic.
Thank you! After doing “Reality Rearranged” for a long time I decided it was time to start over with a new series. The basic theme of “Solitaire” is the same as “Reality Rearranged”, but I think you can see distinct differences and development between the two series. I feel I have still a lot to learn and explore with this kind of imagery and will keep on developing my craft with “Solitaire” for at least another year.
How would you describe your style? And do you have any advice to photographers and artists out there who are still struggling to find their own style or niche?
I have always gravitated more towards art photography than documentary photography. I have never seen photography as a way of objectively describing reality, but rather as a way of telling stories and sharing my views. I work mostly in Black and White and with simple, uncluttered compositions where every part of the picture somehow adds to the story being told. When looking back at my old pictures I can see how my current style of imagery slowly, but surely matured into what it is today. Subconsciously it’s been there the whole time in terms of lighting and the choice of motives, but it was first when I started doing photo montages that I could really start refining my style further. I think that is the advice I would like to give, finding your own expression is something that happens gradually. It’s a slow process, but if you keep working it will come to you eventually.
Would it be possible to see a before/after of your works?
Of course! Attached is the two main source files for my picture Puppet.
I had my model jump up and down to try to catch him in the right position. I often incorporate a bit of chance into my shoots. Sometimes, I think, by playing around you can capture a much more interesting expression than if you were to plan every little detail ahead. In the picture of the hand I had the model pinch a mobile phone to get the right gap between the fingers, and also to get the right “feel” to the hand, it has to look as if it’s actually holding something a bit heavy.
What’s your proudest moment as a photographer?
I still feel like this is something I do mainly for myself, because I love doing it. And every time I set out to create a new picture it’s really exciting to see how the idea develops into a finished piece. In those moments I feel a bit proud, when I look at something I’ve just created out of nothing but an idea.
Tell us about your creative process. When conceptualizing ideas for a photograph what do you usually do to best translate your thoughts into images?
I don’t believe creativity is something that “strikes” you, but rather something you have to work actively on. I’m nowhere near close to fully understanding my own creative process, but I do have a work flow I follow.
I try to schedule creative sessions of one or two hours a couple of times each week where I don’t do any actual work. In these sessions I shield myself from the outside world and the distractions of everyday life and try to come up with ideas. I believe for creativity to happen I need to be in a calm, playful and open mindset where I can focus and hear myself think. This is easier said than done, it takes a lot of effort to force yourself to take this time to not think about or do anything else.
How I come up with specific ideas is hard to describe and very different from time to time, basically I just let my mind wander and sketch down ideas in a notebook. Sometimes I start with a visual aspect, like something I photographed, or something in front of me (I’ve noticed there is a lot of hands in my pictures for this reason) but most of the times I start with a thought or a feeling and take it from there. It is very much an unconscious flow, and all I really can do is try and make time for it.
When I have an idea for a picture I let it rest for a couple of days, keeping it in the back of my head. It’s seldom the absolute first idea that is the “best”, if I keep thinking about it I can usually develop it into something more.
When I have a somewhat finished idea of what I want to do I proceed by photographing the source material and then putting it all together in Photoshop and proof printing.
On average, how long would you say it takes to create a photo. So, conceptualize an idea, shoot, edit, etc?
I have not timed my work, but I would guess I put in between eight to 24 hours of work behind the camera and computer to finish a picture. The idea-part is much harder to estimate, as it’s something that’s constantly going on in my mind. An idea can conceptualize in an instant or take months or even years to become a picture.
Your photography screams surrealism. I was wondering, what is your personal definition of surrealism?
For me, surrealism is about trying to explain something abstract like a feeling or a thought, expressing the subconscious with a picture.
What are you currently working on?
I am still hard at work on pictures for the “Solitaire” series, and I hope to spend as much time creating and developing as possible for the nearest future.
How has photography changed your life?
Like I mentioned before, I was in a very bad place when I found my art, and in it I found something I loved doing and something I could be proud of. I found a purpose, and with that purpose a way to start climbing upwards. It helped me tremendously as a person and my journey since has been amazing.
I think this is the awesome thing about life. Without the bad stuff you can’t have the really good. Without living through my bad stuff, I would not have found my art.
What is your favorite photo (or the best photo) that you’ve ever taken?
About a month ago I became a father for the first time and the (gazillion) pictures I take of my daughter everyday feels more important to me than any other pictures I’ve ever created.
Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers, artists, and readers about photography/art or life?
Well, I always feel a bit uncomfortable to give advice to anyone, but if there is anything I’m beginning to realize is that you only have one shot at life, so try to spend as much time as possible doing what you love. Learn what is important to you and what is not.
Keep up with Tommy and his work so on his website, Facebook Page, Twitter, and Tumblr.