Photographer Feature

In Focus: Simon Johansson

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Posted on 03/10/2020

Perhaps one of the reasons we love art the most is the inherent mystery behind it. So many pieces are left open to interpretation by the viewer, whether done intentionally or not, allowing for us to translate our own feelings and stories onto pieces. This allows us to better understand ourselves and the world around us, while also giving us the chance to personally relate to things of great beauty.

Stockholm-based photographer Simon Johansson knows exactly how to evoke this sense of mystery: tell the audience as little as possible about your work. All of his photographs are simply and somewhat ironically titled “Untitled”, and this is not due to laziness or lack of creativity. “I don’t like to know anything beforehand about other photographers pictures and I don’t want people to know anything about mine. It kills curiosity and takes away the mystery. A good photo asks questions, and the best person to answer those questions is the viewer”, he explains. Simon’s desire to pass tremendous creative control over to the viewers and appreciators of his photographs is a facet of his artistry that makes him truly unique, and doesn’t stop with the titles of his photographs. When viewing Simon’s work, viewers will likely take note of the monochromatic nature of the majority of his images. Simon states that he prefers to photograph in black and white due to its timeless nature, but also because he likes “the fact that black and white doesn’t really exist in the real world. Therefore the viewer can fill the photo with whatever colors he or she prefers. It’s all in the viewers mind”.

Simon has been working as a freelance photographer since 2000, dabbling in both the editorial and commercial spheres. But when working for himself, he has one simple guideline: “I almost never take a photo if there’s not a person in it. I love how the camera gives me access to people and places. It’s like having a magical key. Documentary photos of people is basically my thing”. And though he is self-taught, due to his parallel work as a journalist, capturing people - both in words and in images - is something that just comes quite naturally to him.

When asked for advice for photographers who wish to gain his confidence while capturing candid photos of (oftentimes) complete strangers, Simon shares “Always have your camera ready. Always switched on, no lens cap. Don’t be afraid to get close to people - they very, very seldom get angry. After you take the photo of them, if they notice you, give them a smile or a thumbs up. It’s also to your advantage if you use a small camera...then people don’t see you as a threat.” He candidly adds, “Don’t bring your biggest professional camera mounted with your biggest professional super zoom to the streets. That’s just stupid”.

As a resident of Stockholm, Simon undoubtedly has a myriad of complex feelings about the city, as most of us do about the places we call home. He poetically describes the personality of Stockholm as “[It] is impossible to evade your beauty, vulnerability and vanity. And your flaws. Your rottenness. I visit places where you bleed, I am there picking your scabs. Sometimes I grow tired of you and your easily broken promises.But I never give up on you.” He says that “Stockholm is both beautiful and haunting, and therefore a perfect city to explore.”

On a more practical note, “It’s not too big, you can cover it without getting overwhelmed, and it’s not too small either. It never loses it’s city feeling. A perfect day in Stockholm is of course a day filled with photography. First, and this is very important, put on your most comfortable shoes. Then take out your camera, switch it on, hang it around your neck and take off the lens cap. And then you walk, walk, walk. And then walk some more.”

UNTITLED BY SIMON JOHANSSON

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Written by Niamh Wilkins. Photographs by Karin Hasselström.

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