Worlds Within – an interview with Erik Hultgren

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editor’s note: I’ve known Erik now for about 8 years from the website Worth1000. He was still living at home with his parents and had only just started doing photography. The years have flown by and he is now all grown up, been to uni and now works as a political editor for a newspaper in Sweden.  I’ve seen his photography blossom from generic photos to definitely ‘Erik’ photos. He has grown to have his own unique and interesting style.

Erik, I know you now for about 8 years, was this when your photography started or have you been shooting for longer.

Wow, have I been shooting for that long? I think it was basically back then sometime. I think I’ve always had an interest in art. As a kid, I drew a lot and later on I stared doing photo-manipulations, mostly the fun kind where you merge two animals together etc., When I reached a certain technical level, I came to a point, where to improve I needed to make the images more appealing by using better composition. I started to read about how to use light, color, position etc., to create a good piece of art. Since most of this information was directed towards photographers, it was a pretty natural step to start experimenting with that art form as well.

As the years have gone by I’ve glided more and more towards photography.fields1

I’d like to go back a few years to a series of photographs, mostly farm landscapes, where you have these long foregrounds of fields in beautiful light and fields or buildings in the distance. What was your incentive to take these photographs.

I started taking them for a 30 day challenge where I was supposed to take 1 photo every day for 30 days. At the time I was about to move away from my family’s farm in Vellinge, very close to Malmö, so decided to take the opportunity to showcase the beautiful countryside where I grew up.

An actual farm?

Yes, we had crops and when I was a kid we had pigs as well, chickens, now and then, and my sister had a horse.

So is it true that you can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy?

Ha, I don’t know :-D   but if you compare to my girlfriend, she’s from the city, she thinks it’s kind of boring out in the countryside but I can enjoy the quietness even when nothing at all happens.

As for the landscape images and the long foregrounds, I just simply like to get some perspective in the image and include what’s close to the camera as well as far away.

Like this one, where the fields are divided; an expression on the ever-changing landscape, how man shapes the earth?

10285383264_d461a77a44_oThis particular images was taken when I was relatively new to photography.  There is no actual message or emotion that I tried to evoke here , rather, an exercise in composition.  I’ve always viewed this work as almost being abstract, where the strong lines and dramatic sky catch the view’s attention.  I can understand why the very strict lines, in combination with the motive, would make you think about how man shapes the earth. The image grows a little with your interpretation in mind.

I often think that landscapes or shots of buildings get rather two dimensional and boring if there isn’t a foreground to create perspective. Some of my friends think that I’m a bit predictable, almost always letting the foreground take a lot of space, but that’s how I like my pictures.

It’s just something that happened really. I noticed it because a friend told me “I always know which images are yours because of the foreground which got me to thinking, he is right.

 

 

 

So it’s instinctive?

20027085_97a8It’s also a bit experimental but I usually think it gets pretty flat if you don’t have a foreground, although I have a few exceptions notably I did some images of the moonrise with an object that looks like a basket and that one doesn’t have a foreground.

Oh, I know which one you mean, where the moon ends up being in the exact spot it is, a foreground might actually take away from it.

Exactly, that’s what I meant, but usually, I think it adds something to have more foreground that can lead the eye into the beautiful background.

 

I call that ‘having a personal style’!

 

 

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I also recall you taking a lot of photos of food and I believe you had a food blog, do you still have it and would you consider yourself  a food aficionado?

 

Food is one of life’s daily pleasures. I love to cook and to eat and as an amateur photographer, I shoot now and then for my  recipe-blog. Unfortunately for your readers, the blog is in Swedish (editor’s note: Google Translate is great at translating websites!! ) and only includes recipes for pickled herring (yes, this is just as strange and nerdy as it sounds) but so far I have more than 50 recipes. It started off as a fun thing to do and just grew.

 

 

 

There is also a side of your photography that really shows creative humor.  Are you a natural comedian or does photography allow you to release your inner clown?

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The Wurst Mustache
- Self Portrait -

 

This isn’t a case of a closet clown, but rather shows a side of me that my friends and colleagues already know. Photography is just another way to let it out and, I must say, one of the best ways to let it out. I also think it’s a way to make me not take my photography so seriously, but rather use it just to have some fun and get some laughs.

Do you normally compose in camera?

I would say no, but that is one of the things I want to do more. I do sometimes but not always as I’m a huge fan of adding some space that gives me options when I am in post.

Composition, it is just natural for you?

I don’t know. When I shoot, I of course think about composition, and also about composition rules. It isn’t always very intuitive and I often try different crops afterwards in Photoshop. But I think practice makes perfect.

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I also think it’s important to try to not follow different composition-rules blindly. The most common would be the rules of thirds, which is a classic rule that often works well, but for some photos it doesn’t work at all.

 

Well, they are not really rules, but guidelines, actually.

Yeah, sometimes you can make an image unbalanced purposefully because you want to create that tension. I remember someone saying that photography is kind of unique because every thing that we are taught (rules of thirds etc., ) are supposed to make images look nice and that would be the equivalent of telling an author to describe his stories only in a nice way, which would really take the pleasure out of reading as everything would be very one-dimensional.

 

Sadly, the rule of thirds is often taught as a rule and not as a guideline. It does have a good purpose, but every rule has it’s exceptions and there are other guidelines that can work better depending on what you want to create. If you like your image to be more static, then it’s better to put the main object in the center, if you want to be completely unbalanced, put it out in one of the corner. Only using rule of thirds make photography so predictable.

 

 

 

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All of these photographs are lovely, Erik, but I have noticed in the last couple of years a very big change in your photography. Lots of incredible use of light, very moody photographs; introspective images that grab the heart and soul and go further than a simply well-taken photography. These to me are art, the are very expressive, touching and sentimental. What changed, Erik?

I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. In one way I think that photography always reflects the photographer behind the camera. I seldom have a clear vision of the emotion or feeling I want to create when I go out and start shooting, rather it is an experimental process where I stop when I find something that I am satisfied with. I usually don’t even know if I will keep the images I’ve taken when I walk back home with the camera, it’s something I know when I’ve done the post-processing.

So it’s a process where I am constantly searching for something that appeals to me. Of course, that means the image has to connect somehow to my own emotions and ideas. I very rarely have an idea of what message my photos are supposed to convey, rather I find that photography is a way to find and express feelings that are too complex and too hard to define to express with just words. If I take a picture and I don’t find a way to make it express something that I find appealing in some way I will at some point delete it and move on. I’ve ended up empty-handed from a lot of my shootings (as with all other kinds of craftsmanship, one needs to practice and the more you fail the more you will learn).

 

A part of my “change” is surely due to better technical skills, as well as better equipment. I also think it’s a matter of trial and error. The more photos I’ve taken the better I’ve become at
creating something that I like more often.

Another part of the change surely has to do with changes in my own life.  In 2007, I started my university studies, in 2008, I moved to a new city and in 2009, my mother died during tragic circumstances. Since I don’t really know exactly what I want to express with those photos
it is hard to say how this has affected them, but I am rather sure that they have.

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So, you are a romantic, a sentimental?

Nah, I don’t think most of my friends would agree with you on this one. Most people on the contrary perceive me as a very rational and not very emotive person. Here you might have the case of me looking into my own closet.

 

You may not realize it, but I think these experiences have actually changed something in you and this is a part of you that you are showing in your images.

I think if we talk about these mood type images, I think there is some kind of expression of something that you cannot express in words but you can bring up existential questions.  When I look at my own photos, such as this one with the man in the hat, we see he is going somewhere  but it is unclear where, it could be asking the questions: ” what is the meaning of everything, where am I going, and what do I want to do”,  and I think that may have something to do  with it.

 

 

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The images with the fog especially give the feeling of advancing but not really knowing.

Yes, being lost somewhere.

In several of these images, you are wearing the hat. Does this make you more anonymous; like any man instead of it being you or do you usually wear this hat?

I usually wear this hat when it is autumn;  it’s my grandpa’s hat, but to answer the real question, I kind of agree with you about that and I think that is why I like these scenes because you don’t have any sense of it being someone in particular, you just have a human being and people can connect with that; at least I think so.

So you bring your camera with you all the time?

No, I really don’t but maybe I should. Sometimes I regret it but i have one of those very big dslr’s and the type of photos that I shoot,  I need to bring a tripod as well so it’s a problem to always bring.

 

 

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Because you do slow exposures?

Yeah, often landscapes taken at twilight so with slow exposures, but I also do slow exposures when i shoot food so there too, I use a tripod.

 

When you shoot, you do not have a concept beforehand?

I don’t think I have a clear plan but if we are talking outside shoot, in the city or nature, there is usually a place I know I want to go. I jog and pass by places all the time and when i go past a building, I may think, how can I use this and how would this look or that look and later you go to these places and usually during certain times. I usually shoot around twilight when the sun is going down and the shadows are long but there is a problem now, because the sun sets earlier in the evening because of my location.

So you are not out of the office and you have to work around this or do it on the weekends?

Well, I never knew before because I was a student and I didn’t have the same time constraints such as working 8-5. I guess I could choose to shoot at sunrise, as it rises around 6 am.

 

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As an example, one of the images was of a candle on a dock, with buildings in the background. For that one, the day before I took this photo, I walked there and it takes about 35 minutes to get there and when I arrived it was too dark, so I had to walk back home and then go back and redo it the day after.

The candle really works because it defines your background and it balances it nicely.

Actually, it’s a bit interesting what I was going for, mostly, when I did this because I had this concept in mind (okay, sometimes I have a concept ;-) )  that was the connection between the light and the buildings lit up behind and I was trying to create some sort of connection between those different parts of the image.

Oh, when I think of it, when I look at the candle and all the slats of wood, it has the same reflection as the lights on the further end over the water.

Exactly,  this one became a strong concept that I really wanted to do.

Many people say there is nothing to take photos of, what would you tell them?

I’d say they are wrong, you can always find something interesting. I’m a lazy person, most of my outdoor photos are taken very close to where I live, some of them are taken almost from the same place but with the camera pointed in another direction. And still, if you didn’t know that, you would think they are shot at completely different places.

So, look around you where you are. You can often create far more interesting photos than you think and the more you know the area, the better the photograph that resides there.

T16074101_ce47hat’s actually a great message to tell people! :-)

I know we  cannot know what the future will bring or what we will want in the future but at this moment, where do you want to take your photography?

I think I would like to continue to evolve this type of photography where it is more than simply composition. I’m also trying to work more with creating coherent series of images. I’ve had this project going on where I take one image every month, to try to create a calendar, but so far there has always been something that I wanted to change with the images during the year so it hasn’t been that coherent that I wanted. Maybe next year I’ll do it better.

I now would like to do more images that at least express something and some may think that means something very literal or that you need to find a message and I think more of wanting to create a mood or emotion.

 I, also, really hope that you continue to do this artistic type of photography as they are very evocative and when we look at them, we are pulled out of ‘logic mode’ because they put us in some dream-like state where they help us to look within ourselves. 

Thank you so much, Erik, for your kindness and generosity to share both your photography and who you are with all of us. It was really a pleasure to get to know you a bit more. :-)

 

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Erik Hultgren

 

 

Erik Hultgren lives in  Sweden with his girlfriend and works as a political editor for a newspaper. He is a passionate and very talented photographer with an ever-evolving and unique voice.  Please visit his work at the following websites:

Erik Hultgren’s Flickr website

Erik’s  30 day project blog

Erik’s Pickled Herring Food Blog (in Swedish but easy to translate using Google Translate)

All images are  ©Erik Hultgren and my not be used without his express written permission
Creative Commons License
Worlds Within – an interview with Erik Hultgren by Maggie Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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