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Lasse Erkola

22 July 2021

Lasse Erkola is a Finnish-based photographer with a heart based in Japan. His photos aim to capture lonely subjects; with people going about their daily lives set against a minimalist backdrop, or desolate buildings illuminated by fluorescent or neon light sources.

What's your backstory?

I'm a self-taught photographer and graphic designer from Helsinki, Finland. Ever since I was a kid I've enjoyed drawing and doing other art related activities. When high school ended, I tried getting into different art schools, but had no luck. After a while, Thomas Puha, a friend of mine had this idea of making a new video game magazine. He asked me if I would like to join in as a graphic designer, mainly doing layouts for the magazine. I had no previous experience in doing such things, so I said yes. Thus, Pelaaja, Finland's best video game magazine was born. I still work as the art director for Pelaaja. In 2002 me and Thomas (who now works at Remedy Entertainment) travelled to Japan in order to attend the Tokyo Game Show. Thomas was the reporter, I was the press photographer / tourist. This short, but important trip, triggered a deep fascination towards Japan in me. The following years I had to go back there – multiple times.

How did you first start out in photography?

Gradually. In the beginning I didn't have any agenda, I was just shooting complete randomness for a long time with an old school Sony CyberShot camera. On my first trips to Japan I was mainly just hunting down interesting street art around Tokyo – graffiti, stencils, stickers and tags by artists like Invader, The London Police, Neck Face etc. But after buying a proper DSLR (Canon EOS 300D aka Rebel) something clicked, literally (pun intended). I fell in love with how the shutter button felt. It gave a satisfying physical feedback compared to my old Sony. And it made a sound! A very sexy clicking sound! Might sound trivial, but it kind of made shit real. After that, I think I took photography more seriously, at least on a subconscious level.

How would you describe your style?

Calm, distant, moody, wistful, painterly, cinematic.

I love to shoot isolated subjects. And in low light it's easier to find different situations where light isolates the subject.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I enjoy bad movies, classic paintings, meticulous illustrations and typography based graphic design, but when I'm out shooting, it's all about music. I'm a huge nerd when it comes to electronic music. Artists like Lorn, Machinedrum, Ital Tek, Boards of Canada and Lone get my juices flowing. Right now I'm listening to Isolated Systems by ASC. If you are into drum and bass, you have to check it out.

What are you looking for when you go out shooting?

Unique light/lighting is on the top of my list, but really it could be anything from a distinctive character walking down the street to some strange architecture. And most definitely small hidden alleys! If it looks dirty and shady, I have to dive in. I'm an addict, please send help.

How do you know when you've got "the shot"?

A great shot has to have a certain degree of simplicity in its visual narrative. At least in theory, this means that a great shot shouldn't need to be explained to have an effect.

How do you achieve the look in your photos?

When shooting in low light I'm always mindful of highlights. I don't want to blow them up too much. So basically I underexpose a little bit. Nowadays most digital cameras have pretty crazy dynamic range anyways, so underexposing pictures is ok. I shoot mostly handheld because a tripod is too cumbersome for my tastes. I like convenience. I don't use many presets when editing so most of the time I do everything manually from scratch. I edit in Adobe Camera Raw and might make some additional corrections in Photoshop afterwards.

Before and after editing

How do you feel your style has evolved over the years?

The biggest change in my style has come in the form of editing. Playing around with colours and achieving a better understanding of how colours work shifted my art to a new level. And also realising and accepting the fact that I am basically a colour photographer. At least for now.

What motivates you to shoot?

Photography is my excuse to travel to Japan and eat some tasty ramen. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh, but there's some truth to it. Photography is not always just about photography. Sometimes it's about seeing friends, or it might be a great reason to go out walking somewhere you've never been to.

What advice would you have for people getting into photography?

Just try to have fun and make as many mistakes as you can. It's the only way to get better.

How has COVID-19 affected your photography?

It has definitely put a stop on my travels to Japan. That's a big one.

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

I have noticed a shift towards Twitter recently among photographers, but regardless of the social platform, I get fatigued every now and then. I have no idea how some people manage to post daily without melting their brains. Kudos for them.

What are some of your hobbies outside of photography? Do any of these feed into your creative process?

I've always been into video games and I also like to watch bad or obscure movies from the 80s and 90s. Sometimes I make electronic music as well (on hiatus).

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Lasse. Any final words?

Thank you for having me. This was nice.

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