Interview: Tommy Ingberg – Surrealist Photographer

How did you get started doing what you do?
The drive to create has always been a big part of me. I’ve photographed since I was a kid, and in my late teens it became a serious hobby. I’ve tried several areas of photography: portraits, concert photography, street photography, nature photography and everything in between. About six years ago, during a rough period of my life, I started creating surreal photo montages dealing with my feelings and inner life. Although I have always felt a “need” to create I don’t think I ever thought it to be about more than just creating pretty pictures. This time it was different, it was a way for me to try to sort out what was going on inside me, I stopped trying to make what I thought was “art” or “good photography” to others and made pictures just for me, because I needed to. I stopped caring about what other people might think of my work.

By crossing that line I was free to tell my own stories, and by crossing the line from photography into photo montages I had the tools to actually tell those stories. The reward was twofold, it helped me as a sort of therapy and in my art I also found a purpose, something I love doing and can be proud of.

How would you describe your creative style?
I have always gravitated more towards art photography than documentary photography. I have never seen photography as a way of objectively describing reality, but rather as a way of telling stories and sharing my views. I work mostly in black and white and with simple, uncluttered compositions where every part of the picture somehow adds to the story being told. When looking back at my old pictures I can see how my current style of imagery slowly but surely matured into what it is today. Subconsciously it’s been there the whole time in terms of lighting and the choice of motives, but it was first when I started doing photo montages that I could really start refining my style further.

Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz
Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz

What’s your inspiration?
That varies. I read a lot and watch lots of movies and find inspiration in that. I try to study greatness in all fields of art, be it music, photography, painting, poetry or anything else. It is very developing and humbling to look at your own work in that context. My main source of inspiration though is music; I always listen to music and could really not imagine life without it. Despite movies, music, books and other external sources of inspiration I still need inspiration from inside myself, my life and my experiences. I need to have something to say that comes from within, otherwise there is no real point in creating. I would just be re-telling someone else’s stories.

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
I have not timed my work, but I would guess I put in between eight to 24 hours of work behind the camera and computer to finish a picture. The idea-part is much harder to estimate, as it’s something that’s constantly going on in my mind. An idea can conceptualize instant or take months or even years to become a picture.

How do you keep motivated?
Of course it’s easy to sometimes get lost on the way, but usually it helps me to take a step back and remind myself that at the end of the day I love creating, and that’s the only real motivation I need.

Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz
Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz
Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz

How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
A person is influenced by the country and culture she or he lives in, and in my opinion art is always a reflection of the artist. I was born in Sweden, but both my parents are from Finland and I can certainly see a bit of Finnish melancholy in my work. There is also a bareness or minimalism to much of my work that maybe could be interpreted as something typical Scandinavian.

What do you want others to take away from your work?
I use my own inner life, feelings and thoughts as seeds to my pictures, that is where my stories come from, almost like a visual diary. I think the concepts and thoughts born in self reflection are universal for all of us, we all carry the same set of feelings inside us, and we all in our own way search for answers, trying to make sense of life, the world and being. I want my images to connect to the viewer on this basic level and invite to reflection. Good storytelling, visual, written or otherwise I think should hold a level of ambiguity; it should let you draw your own conclusions from your own perspective. I try to make my stories ambiguous and although I always have a concrete idea behind my pictures, with time my perspectives change and my original stories fade away and become replaced with new interpretations. So there is really no “right” interpretation, only what you see in a picture in this moment and mindset. It could be about something very philosophical or simply about that one time you had that horrible headache. I always love hearing different peoples interpretations of my pictures, it’s very interesting how we all think differently, but still in some way alike.

Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz
Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Well, I always feel a bit uncomfortable to give advice to anyone, but if there is anything I’m beginning to realize is that you only have one shot at life, so try to spend as much time as possible doing what you love. Learn what is important to you and what is not.

What art supplies do you use?
I don’t really pay much attention to the technology and equipment part of photography. I buy only equipment that I really need and that somehow improves my work. I shoot with a Canon EOS 7D and 5D, mostly equipped with a L 24-70/2.8 lens. In studio I use lighting from Elinchrom and a really sturdy Manfrotto tripod. Editing is done with Photoshop on a somewhat high-end PC. Printing is usually done with an Epson inkjet on Hahnemühle paper.

Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz
Interview with Surrealist Photographer, Tommy Ingberg on Jung Katz

What’s your process like?
I don’t believe creativity is something that “strikes” you, but rather something you have to work actively on. I’m nowhere near to fully understanding my own creative process, but I do have a work flow I follow. I try to schedule creative sessions of one or two hours a couple of times each week where I don’t do any actual work. In these sessions I shield myself from the outside world and the distractions of everyday life and try to come up with ideas. I believe for creativity to happen I need to be in a calm, playful and open mindset where I can focus and hear myself think. This is easier said than done, it takes a lot of effort to force yourself to take this time to not think about or do anything else.

How I come up with specific ideas is hard to describe and very different from time to time, basically I just let my mind wander and sketch down ideas in a notebook. Sometimes I start with a visual aspect, like something I photographed, or something in front of me (I’ve noticed there is a lot of hands in my pictures for this reason) but most of the times I start with a thought or a feeling and take it from there. It is very much an unconscious flow, and all I really can do is to make time for it.

When I have an idea for a picture I let it rest for a couple of days, keeping it in the back of my head. It’s seldom the absolute first idea that is the “best”, if I keep thinking about it I can usually develop it into something more. When I have a somewhat finished idea of what I want to do I proceed by photographing the source material and then putting it all together in Photoshop and proof printing.

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