An hour later - November 2020
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Louise Johansson

6 January 2022

Foggy scenes are the speciality Swedish photographer Louise Johansson who combines both city night scenes with barren landscapes. Her colour grading is aggressive; with hues varying from purples, turquoises to "jello" yellows.

What's your backstory?

I was born and raised by my mother, in the small Swedish town, Landskrona, but fled to the big city as soon as I could. However, in the middle of my traveling adventures in my early twenties, I broke my leg, and landed in Aalborg, Denmark. That was 15 years ago, and I never got any further. Today I'm 38, I finished my bachelor in psychomotor therapy last year, and I live with my lovely kiddos: 6 yr old Faun, and 9 yr old Flora. Next year I'm aiming for a Master of Science in Public Health, and I'm also planning a small darkroom association, where members can come and develop their film and photographs the old fashioned way.

Jello. December 2020

How did you first start out in photography?

Photography has always been a part of my life, even though I didn't see it as a hobby - at least not until I went to art school. Somehow my mom always left the camera unsupervised with me, and I clicked my way through the late 80's and 90's, without hesitation. Then, when I was 17, I got introduced to black and white photography (with free film and access to a dark room!), and of course - I fell deeply in love. My mom's red point & shoot was replaced by a heavy, old, borrowed analog thing, with a manual lens, and suddenly my head was filled with thoughts on how to compose frames, contrasts, depth of field, and other mind blowing stuff(!) Even though I love reading, and usually get quite nerdy with my interests, it never occured to me to read a lot about cameras and photography, back then. The most natural thing was just to get out there, shooting, experimenting and learning by doing. I also choose to believe that both the camera and especially the darkroom kept me from trouble as well, as I was kind of a wild spirit in a tough environment. I've spent many afternoons in the dark, thanks to my eclectic, witty art teacher, who gave me his key, so I could stay after school - on one condition - not drinking any of the liquids in there, or tell anybody I had his key, as he really wanted to keep his job.

Then in 2006, I could finally afford to buy my first digital camera. A Fujifilm S9600. It was a dream come true, even though I was a novice and somehow failed to notice it had a fixed lens. I was quite annoyed at first, but it turned out to be the perfect first camera for me. Suddenly, I was able to play with my shots on a whole other level, working with them in photoshop (which was far from what it is today). My easel and brushes were packed away, and got replaced by a computer screen. Then one night, I brought the camera with me outside, just to try long exposure, and a whole new world opened to me; low light photography. And ever since, it's been on the very top of my list of things I love doing.

Diagonally - An Ever Fading Experience. September 2021

How would you describe your style?

Besides low light photography, I've never really consciously aimed for a certain genre, or had the desire to belong in one. I think my work is a mix, or at least have elements from several styles: underexposed, low light, night, neo/nordic noir, street, cinematic, (post-) apocalyptical, dystopian, surreal, melancholic, nature, moody, architectural, minimal, graphical… The list is probably longer, but when I'm out shooting or editing, I'm not thinking of whether it is one, several or the other. I'm not aiming to get placed in a box, where my work can be labeled and compared, and a big part of me has always rebelled against conformity and mainstream, so it fits me well not fitting in. I would say my style is somewhat consistent, though, with the underexposed, foggy, moody vibes, mixed with split tones and semi-sharp compositions.

What subjects do you like to shoot?

My intention is to capture what I reckon as a sense of unjudged calmness - and as I see it, I present a frame filled with potential, which triggers the observer's feelings and memories, and awakens something in him or her. With my psychology background, I can't help being intrigued and excited to hear people analyze my work. I think the interpretation says just as much about the observer, as the photo itself. I've had lots of comments on how my work reflects the darker sides of the human mind, loneliness and sometimes evilness as well - and I can definitely see that too, when I think about it (there's no wrong interpretation!), but what I see and feel is usually just the subtle texture and quality of calmness in a certain place. Maybe a low light empty space triggers us, as human beings. The fear of being alone with ourselves and our thoughts. The unsettled feelings which arise, when hidden memories get triggered. Maybe that's why it's easy to interpret my work as being generally melancholic. I don't know... For me it's just different scenes of calmness. But I do enjoy being alone in my own company, and tend to thrive in lowlight, so my kind of calm is probably not everyones cup of tea.

On what might be hidden. Or whom. January 2021

Where do you draw inspiration from?

What inspires me most are my ever changing surroundings, and all things, which stimulates my senses. Different seasons, moods, nature vs. manmade constructions, architecture, lines and shapes, textures, colour combinations, cinematography, music, art, people and their life-stories, and so much more.. I do need to be in a certain state of awareness to grasp it all, though, so to turn the question around, I would say, I'm most inspired, when I have the time to be present, and take my environment fully in - with or without a camera in my hand.

I also think it can be quite inspiring to do something as practical, as looking through some old work every once in a while. It gives me a glimpse of my development, and sometimes I see places and also techniques I might have played with, but forgotten, which sparks my interest to try it or check it out again. It has dragged me out of a creative coma more than once!

Of course, being on Instagram, it's unavoidable getting inspired by the many talented photographers. However, there's a fine line between inspiration and copying, and frankly, I'm quite tired of seeing the same stuff over and over again. Creativity comes from within. In its purest form, it's an extension of one's own inner world. That's what makes me fall in love with someone's work; when I can sense and get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of the photographer - and the other way around - that's what makes me feel satisfied with my own work; when I can see and feel myself clearly in it. Personally, I think, too much "inspiration" from other artists, sadly kills authenticity, which I believe is key - but then again, it's hard to tell whether the egg or the chicken came first, so I guess it's just up to one self, to do what feels right - live through one's own creativity - or in the wake of others.

Morning perception - while high on fog. November 2020

What are you looking for when you go out shooting?

Obviously my favourite thing to shoot is fog, but it's definitely not a criteria - just a fantastic condition to shoot in, which I can't control. Only hunt. There are things that I kinda like to control, though, which is composition and breaking its rules, when it makes sense. I'm quite obsessed with invisible lines of sight, and they catch my eye all the time, even when I'm not out shooting. It's a big part of my work, but I don't think it's the first thing people see, when they look at my photographs(?), as it often gets balanced out by the fog, which either provides a soft, dreamy mood or a more dark, eerie vibe. I like to think of it as the relationship between the soft feminine nature and the masculine man made structures; they both have a harmonizing effect on each other, when in balance.

Like most photographers, light is very important to me, and especially different light sources, when shooting in the streets at night. I definitely get busted on my obsession with lines, as soon as there are street lights. I love them (especially if the light bulbs have different colours!), and I want them to be either perfectly aligned, and/or play along with other lines and shapes in the frame, if possible. I almost exclusively shoot handheld, though, which means I have to both stand very still in the dark, and (re)position myself a couple of times, to get all the invisible lines in my head to harmonize with the mood I intend to capture.

I probably sound a bit like a control freak, but out there with the camera, I don't think very much, and that's what I love about it; just being in tune with, and aware of my surroundings, and receptive to the certain quality of calmness, that's unique to every place. That's actually the essence that drives me nowadays; to catch the very much alive but subtle energy - or atmosphere if you like, often in a seemingly empty, or forsaken place.

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

I've been thinking about this many times, and the simple answer is: it's a feeling. It arises the moment I shoot, and leaves me with excitement and a smile on my face. Of course it's born out of many factors, from which I judge the frame the second I see it through the viewfinder, but still - that feeling. It's just so damn uplifting and satisfying. And then again, sometimes I get surprised by a shot I haven't given much thought. When I go through a new set, it's usually the ones where there's a good balance, and a clear sense of the mood I felt, while shooting the scene.

Are you an impulsive or planned shooter?

I'm semi-structured when it comes to my creative work, but mostly I have my camera with me wherever I go. I do plan where to go, what to shoot and so on, and I take notes on which interesting places to (re)visit, in certain weather and light conditions. I also check the weather forecast every evening, to see if there's a chance of morning fog. Many people think I live in some kind of fog paradise, but the truth is, it's quite rare, so I do my best to get out shooting as early, and for as long as possible, when it finally pays a visit.

What I love the most, though, is actually just wandering around, exploring the streets, somewhere in between dusk and dawn. However, I do prefer the early morning hours nowadays, as it easily gets very late in the night, which just leaves me tired and yawning the next day.

Origami - A Multidimentional Experience. September 2021

How do you achieve the look in your photos?

I think there are a number of factors combined, which defines my style. First and foremost, my work is purposely chronically underexposed, and as I shoot handheld in the dark, the quality always suffers a bit. I do mind, but on the contrary, it often adds something to the vibe. Work with what you have, right? Shooting raw does help of course, however some newer equipment would probably give my work a well deserved push.

I've always been very receptive and sensitive to moods, and somehow it's become a strength in my work. Realizing this has put me in an ever learning process, on fine-tuning the way I convey what I sense and feel. When working on a scene which might be full of seemingly dead objects, but buzzes with atmosphere, I don't only colour grade it to make it look good - first and foremost it's about enhancing that particular feeling that caught me, and made me want to perpetuate the scene in the first place.

Before and after editing

Often I end up using colours like dusty pinks, purples, blues, greens and yellows, if it fits with the original colours of the frame. I just love how it challenges my mind, when a seemingly dark scene has a delicate pink softness to it - or a strong yellow, which I personally think is one of the hardest colours to work with in low light. That's actually why I created the very dark, almost golden Jello-series, to see if I could tame it. The Jello preset was born out of creative curiosity, mixed with plain stubbornness, and I cursed more along the way, than I'd like to admit - even when I wasn't working on it. I did, however, end up with a satisfying result, but I still think it's a tricky colour to work with when really dark, as it easily looks dirty and flat.

Regarding my editing process, I work in Lightroom CC. Even though I love playing with tones, I rarely just pick a colour, just because I like it. Usually I look for the different colours already existing within the frame, when I choose the palette. I pay very much attention to subtle colour combinations when I'm out shooting, so often I already know which colors I will work with, when I get home. I guess I've convinced myself, this process is a way of preserving authenticity, and paying respect to my own work. However, I very much enjoy experimenting, so I really don't have any fixed rules. The only exception is, I don't add stuff, which isn't already in the frame. If a light pole misses a bulb in a row of lights, then I'm grateful for the character it adds to the story, instead of aiming for some kind of false, visual perfection. My maximum stretch is cleaning up a bit, but only if really necessary.

And just to answer the most common questions I get - No, I don't use filters/diffusers, nor do I add fog in Photoshop or Lightroom - the fog is real.

Before and after editing

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

I would say my style has evolved quite a lot, since I started shooting in low light. I was around 23 when I first brought my camera outside at night, and since then both I as a person, and my work has matured. It seems like a lifetime ago. Before, I was a spontaneous adventurer with no roots - and today I am calm, grounded and content - close to boring - haha. I still have a little adventurer inside of me, though, which I think is reflected in my curious, colourful and experimental sides. The mature me wants calmness in the form of leveled horizons, no compromises, clean frames and deep messages. A broader spectrum of moods and feelings, and thus acknowledging all colours of life's palette - and accepting them. The older I get, the more consistent my work gets, and the deeper its meaning gets too. At least to myself.

Of course, I can't deny I love colours, but I think my way of working with them and understanding them, has changed quite a bit over the years. I've developed a greater sensitivity to them, which makes me more certain when combining tones, and therefore I'm also more inclined to experiment. I can't really say I'm inventing new colours, but I often seek to find tones and combinations, which I rarely see. Again, rebelling against conformity, is probably not something I will grow out of in this lifetime.

Back in the days, when I started editing my work, I gave almost every shot a go. Today I'm incredibly picky and critical, at the same time, as I'm more relaxed and light hearted. If a shoot was seemingly bad, I'm not going to judge myself personally - only my work, discard what does not satisfy me, and go on with my day. However, I admit if there's fog, and I'm not satisfied with the outcome, then I'll probably be a bit grumpy!

Transition - A Liberating Experience. September 2021

Do you have one or two photos that you are particularly proud of?

I do have my favourites, but the ones which means most to me, are two specific photos.

Image One

The first one was shot back in 2009, and I remember the feeling of really nailing a foggy night shot in the streets, for the first time. When I look at it today, I still think it's a pretty good shot, but not something I would hang on my wall. However, I'll never forget the kick I got from it. It was amazing!

First foggy night shot. 2009

Image Two

The second shot was captured on a freezing, foggy, early November morning in 2020. I remember, I got out of the car and just stood there, amazed by the beautiful scene in front of me, with subtle purples, pinks and yellows all mixed together, when a man suddenly showed up in the middle of it. I wasn't prepared at all, so I snapped out of my dream state, adjusted the camera settings, took a few shots and went on. When I got home and went through the set, I realized it was the best shoot I've ever had till that date, and I pushed myself more than I'd ever done before, to get the grading right. Now, a year later, I can see how that intense period of experimenting, laid a new foundation to what today defines my style. It was a milestone in my development, as it took my work to a new level.

Milestone shot. Nov 2020

What advice would you have for people getting into photography?

Well, the advice I've seen most often, clearly is the most important one - buy a camera and get out and shoot. But frankly, It's not really helping anybody, is it? Personally, I think it's important to have an experimental mindset, being open and trying anything, to find out what fuels one's fire. It's so easy to fall into some cliché, or trying to copy your favourite photographer, which of course is fine in small doses as practice, but I don't think it will ever be as satisfying, as creating your own personal work. The same goes for presets and filters - learn how to edit from scratch, and find your own style. If you have the guts to let yourself lose, at the same time as you're very critical, scrutinizing your own work (and willing to put the time and effort into it), development will probably follow naturally. And.. ditch the phone editing apps - it seriously can't be compared with working on a big screen.

Seven. Eight. Better stay up late. January 2021

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

Oh my, IG. What can I say? The photography community is great to be a part of, and I love the thought of having an open gallery, which everyone on IG can visit. Almost every person on the planet is there, and it should be a mecca for artists, so what's not to like? Disappointingly almost everything.. The fact that the algorithm constantly changes, and craves everyday fast food posts, instead of gourmet high quality posts once in a while, is just not in the artist's favour. Art takes time, and I'm so tired of seeing talented photographers having no reach at all - or losing it, just because they stop posting every single day. I mean, why not open up the reach, so new people can see their work? It would be a win/win, as it would give more satisfied users, which should be a priority in any business. What's most disappointing, though, is how it's gone to favour reels before pictures, because Mr. Z & Co. wants to compete with TikTok. That is seriously the biggest betrayal so far. No wonder people delete their accounts, and head off to Behance and other platforms made specifically for photographers and other artists. I've only been on IG for a little more than 1,5 yrs, but I'm already quite fed up with it. After I took a couple of weeks off in the spring, my hashtag reach went down to around 20 people per post and stayed there, which is nothing but a joke. So, I've made peace with it, and just treat it as my online gallery, where I post a couple of times a month, and people can pay a visit if they like.

More time for real life, and the things that actually matters.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Louise. Any final comments?

I'm just humbly honoured to have my interview alongside some incredibly talented photographers. Thank you.

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