“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.”
Tommy Ingberg (born 1980) is a conceptual photographer from Sweden presently residing in Nyköping. He’s known for his surrealist photo montages.
Interview with Tommy Ingberg
Tommy, we live in a very visual society where images seem to lose their impact because of the sheer amount of visual imagery. Do you agree?
Not quite. I think this has to do with the setting. Sure, when browsing around a photography site on the Internet with a never-ending stream of pictures you can quickly become uninterested, but compare that to attending a gallery exhibition with a smaller, curated and coherent set of pictures. It’s all about how you chose to consume imagery and your mindset when doing it.
What does an image need to get noticed and resonate?
Looking at my own art, I feel that 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. So I think that the most important part of an image for me is that there is a story being told.
Do you think it’s possible as a photographer and visual artist to still be unique these days? Or do you rather consider it to be more important to create an own style adding your personal twist to something that has already been done before?
I think all creative and innovating work is building on a foundation on everything that has been created before and hopefully about adding something of your own for others to build on in the future. With more than 200.000 years of human history I think it is impossible to do something that has never been done before, so nothing is really new. Kirby Ferguson did a really interesting TED-talk on is subject, well worth watching.
You are quite unique in your approach of photography: creating surreal photo montages. What made you embark on that particular way of making use of photography? And what’s the idea behind it?
I would not say that surreal photo montages are something unique, but hopefully I have added my own unique twist and narrative to it. I have been doing traditional photography for a long time, but about four years ago, during a rough period of my life, I started creating surreal photo montages dealing with my feelings and inner life.
“The reward was twofold, it helped me as a sort of therapy and in my art I also found a purpose.”
I have always felt a “need” to create, but 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, and in that process I found my own artistic expression. 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.
Can you elaborate a little bit on your technique, please?
I take pictures in studio or outside and then arrange them into montages digitally in Photoshop. Sometimes I have a whole idea sketched down on paper, and sometimes I start with a visual part, something I’ve photographed and build the story and image from there. I am very “visual” in my thought process and the picture often evolves together with the idea into its final form.
I spend about an equal amount of time shooting pictures as I do in front of the computer. Usually a picture takes about a week to make, not in actual working time, but an idea takes time to form and be complete. 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.
What reaction would you like to provoke in people looking at your images?
I use my own inner life, feelings and thoughts as seeds to my pictures, that is where my stories come from, almost like a visual diary. I think the concepts and thoughts born in self-reflection are universal for all of us, we all carry the same set of feelings inside us, and we all in our own way search for answers, trying to make sense of life, the world and being.
“There is really no “right” interpretation, only what you see in a picture in this moment and mindset.”
I want my images to connect to the viewer on this basic level and invite to reflection. Good storytelling, visual, written or otherwise I think should hold a level of ambiguity; it should let you draw your own conclusions from your own perspective. I try to make my stories ambiguous and although I always have a concrete idea behind my pictures, with time my perspectives change and my original stories fade away and become replaced with new interpretations. So there is really no “right” interpretation, only what you see in a picture in this moment and mindset.
It could be about something very philosophical or simply about that one time you had that horrible headache. I always love hearing different people’s interpretations of my pictures, it’s very interesting how we all think differently, but still in some way alike.
Philosopher Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
“I do get to explore mine and other people’s realities, but not physically with the camera.”
Absolutely! But maybe not in the way Susan Sontag refers to. Since my work explores my inner self I am of course learning a lot about myself. I recently started a new project in cooperation with a good friend of mine, and in that I become a tourist in her reality so to speak. So in that sense I do get to explore mine and other people’s realities, but not physically with the camera.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
As I mentioned earlier, my switch into photo montage work was of course a defining “landmark”, but other than that I don’t think there has been any revolutionary events. I feel that I have come a long way, but it has been a slow and steady progress.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I am still producing pictures for my “Solitaire” series, and I think I will be doing that for at least the main part of 2014. Parallel with that I am working on a new series of pictures together with my good friend Ingela Ljung. We are working with a new main character based on Ingela’s inner life and stories.
This is very exciting, new and challenging for me since the nature of my work has been so introvert and self-centered. It is also an exploration in how we as a society portrait men and women differently and also how we react differently to pictures of men and pictures of women, and as part of this project we hope to be able to share some insights and what we learned, creating a discussion about this.