Mattias Johansson Composes Beautiful Black and White Photography

All words and photos by Mattias Johansson. Used with permission.

My name is Mattias Johansson and I live in Sweden, in one of the parts that is described as a problem area. Even though there are some problems in my neighborhood, I have chosen to look at it through another perspective. I have focused on photographing the place and not the problem, so to speak. I have discovered that there are some very interesting environments in the area. I think it’s important to show a different perspective and to raise questions about matters that are important. I hope that someone reading The Phoblographer can be inspired to take photos of their home areas and work with a project that enlightens them about a question that is important for them. Photography can be a powerful tool to put a spotlight on a phenomenon.

Why did you get into photography?

I started to have fun with the camera as a child. I tried to take photos of birds with an old camera with a wide-angle lens. The photos came out horrible but I had a fun time. Then I had a break until my late twenties when i totally fell in love with photography.

What photographers are your biggest influences?

I like a lot of photographers and artists. Robert Adams, Luigi Ghirri and Faye Godwin to mention a few. I also try to get inspiration from other areas, for example, I really like the mood in the Swedish poet Pär Lagerkvist’s poems.

How long have you been shooting?

More seriously for about 12 years.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

Photography is my passion and I spend most of my time working with photography in some way. It is my addiction. I think it is the mix between science with the physics and chemicals for example and the artistic side with composing and telling a story with the pictures. Photography is such a powerful media that it is hard not to be influenced by.

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?

Somewhere in between. I feel that the mood in the pictures is important. But I can’t say that I feel that my photos are documentary in a photojournalistic kind of way.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

I often have a pretty clear idea before I start shooting, what I want to tell with the picture and how the picture should look. Then, it’s all about finding the right motive and waiting for the right weather to create the mood that I want. Differences in the weather can really affect the mood of the photo. I enjoy taking photos close to where I live and create photographic projects in the vicinity. For my latest project about the suburb Andersberg, I have had a general idea about what I wanted to mediate.

I use the camera that best meets the purpose. If it is a motif that works best in black and white, I prefer an analog camera. It is one motif that requires me to work a little faster. For a motif to be pictured in color, I choose digital equipment in most cases.

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

I develop my films in the bathroom, and then scan and edit them in Silverfast and  Photoshop. Lately, I’ve been using the developer Ilford DDX that has been working fine for me with a lot of different films. The hybrid technique works fine for me and gives me the best of two worlds.

For digital photos, I edit my RAW files in Lightroom and Photoshop. I do like to print and try to print the photos that I am satisfied with. I print digitally.

Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.

The suburb of Andersberg outside the town Halmstad in the southwest of Sweden is described as a dangerous area and a problem area, both by the local community and by the state. This is reflected in the image material from the area. As a resident of the area, I do not fully agree with the description and from this point, I have photographed the area for quite a long time. My thought has been that instead of focusing on the location as a problem, just focus on the location. The keywords in my photographs are serenity and calm as opposed to the hectic and sometimes violent imagery that is presented in the media. I try to show a calmer and quieter side. There aren’t a lot of action in my photos because that is my experience of Andersberg. The environments I choose are influenced by people to a different extent. However, I have in most cases chosen to photograph the site without people in the picture as I feel that they usually take all the attention.

What made you want to get into your genre?

I love classic black and white photography and I think it is timeless in many ways. The new topography movement in photography has had a big impact on me and my photography. In the man-altered landscape, I find most of my motives and ideas for projects.

Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.

I use a Mamiya 6 with the 50 mm and 80 mm lenses, which I think is one of the best medium format cameras. For the Andersberg project, I used a Fuji GA645 a lot but even though the lens is really sharp, the autofocus can’t be trusted. I have tried a lot of different films and found that Fuji Neopan Acros, Ilford HP5 and Rollei RPX work well.

The analog process helps me to slow down my photography. The limited number of photos forces me to concentrate on the motive and to measure the light carefully. I don’t want to waste any photos so to speak. I also do enjoy developing my own black and white films. It’s still a magical moment when I pull the film out of the developing tank and look at the negatives.

For digital photography, I have a Pentax KP and a couple of limited lenses. The Pentax is really enjoyable and easy to use, and like the Mamiya, the camera doesn’t get in the way when making pictures so to speak.

Both analog and digital photography has its advantages. Analogue mostly for the feel and the slow process and digital for the instant review and the speed. We live in a wonderful time when It comes to choosing camera gear, we have all the techniques from 1839 until now to choose from. I’m glad that I don’t have to choose one type of gear over another.

What motivates you to shoot?

I often try to explore things that I find strange or interesting. In the Andersberg project, I wanted to show a new perspective and to show another view that I believe is relevant.


Visit Mattias Johansson’s website to see more of his work.