Photographer Erik Johansson creates surreal scenes from his imagination using only his camera and some clever computer skills. He layers countless photographs into one final, mind-bending image that seems to come straight from a bizarre dream. As unbelievable as it is, Johansson doesn’t use any CGI or illustration to manipulate his images. We caught up with him for some insight into his impressive technique.
Could you walk us through the process of creating a finished piece?
It usually starts with an idea, a very simple idea. Then I try to find all the locations I need and plan how I will capture it. I then shoot all the material I need and then finally put all the pieces together in Photoshop. Nothing is CGI or illustrated. It’s all just photographs and that’s why it takes so long.
How long does it typically take you to complete a piece?
It’s always different, but it’s usually a very long process. I normally don’t make any more than 6-8 new pieces each year. What takes up the most time is the planning and finding all the locations.
What are some of the challenges that arise in your process?
I always want it to look realistic. It can therefore take a long time to find ways to achieve this. I sometimes have to re-shoot certain parts. It’s all about problem solving, but I enjoy it.
Is there an overarching message or feeling you hope to give to your audience through your work?
I want to make people think. I want to make people feel like they are part of these worlds. Some images are based on an idea or topic but not always. Sometimes it can be something simply visually pleasing. In the end, I want people to make their own interpretations of my work.
Which has been your most challenging project?
I always try to challenge myself to find more complicated ideas to realize. So usually the next project is the most complicated. But perspective illusions like “The Architect” are quite demanding. I’m working on a new one with a similar topic now and the file is incredibly huge and complex.
Which has been your favorite piece to work on?
I’m very self critical and therefore usually like the next piece I’m going to create. But if I should pick something it would be ‘The Architect’, ‘Soundscapes’, and ‘Drifting Away’.
Who or what inspires your work?
I get inspired by all sorts of things. Experiences and thoughts. I often go to art exhibitions to get inspired but I think that painters, especially surrealists, inspire me more than photographers.
Have you ever had an idea that was impossible to execute?
Yes, it actually happens quite often. Ideas are limitless and can sometimes be very extreme. Since I have to photograph every part it’s not always possible. For example, if I want to shoot an idea with lots of people, say 100+ people, it’s quite hard to get a hold of that many people for a project.
What has been your most significant moment as an artist?
To be able to make a living out of what I love to do.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Trying is the best way of learning, there are no shortcuts. To get really good at something you have to keep trying. And that takes a lot of time.
See more of Erik’s work on his website and in this video: