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I Was Looking For Knives And Found You


Luna Lopez, currently studying at Academy Valand pursuing her BFA, and Erik Gustafsson, a past graduate of said school, make for two very compelling visual artists whose work is attuned with positions found internationally in contemporary photography that aren't represented locally nearly as much as we would like. However, things are changing. A scene is making its entry, says Gustafsson. The two speak in our interview about the role and impact that community and personal circles serve their art-making.

"I think there is something really interesting about being let in to peoples' lives and getting to know and learn about communities that before have felt closed or mysterious. That’s the magic about a camera", notes Lopez.


Erik Gustafsson, exhibition 'Color Field', MELK, Oslo, 2019

C-P: Looking at your respective body of works, you both strike me as artists whose photography is marked by a visual aesthetic and a "youthful" contemporary gaze that is very attuned with positions you would find at major festivals and photography publications. I'm thinking of photography for which the online realm of photography blogs and the likes have been paramount. It speaks to me greatly, but I often tend to think it is underrepresented both commercially and institutionally in Sweden, where a lot of yours peers from school will be seated in a more "earthy" or documentary position. What I'm getting at is the feeling of a lack of a "scene" here, as opposed to other places in the world. What is your take?

L.L: Having lived in sweden for 1,5 years, I think I’ve been in my own bubble for a lot of the time, creating, without really paying attention to what is represented or not, or maybe just didn’t want to think about it, so it wouldn’t influence my flow of creation. Though I have of course observed "the style" of photography at school and at galleries in town, which seems to me as either documentary or most of all conceptual photography where it’s not the photograph itself, the technique or the aesthetic that is in focus, but the idea itself that comes first. I believe this is developed in school where you most of the time have to explain every step you take in the process of creating a picture and almost have to know the end result before even starting. For me this prevents the playfulness, spontaneity and the risk of failure which I believe is important ingredients of creating.

Luna Lopez, Untitled, from ongoing project

E.G: I agree, but I think the ”scene” you are speaking of is about to makes its entry and be more accepted here. It’s happening, but slowly. We were mentioning Foam and Hyères earlier when chatting, and I could add Webber Gallery in London as another key player in introducing very good contemporary photograpy. Melk in Oslo is another one. I think I would describe it as more of an open, critical and playful, rather than youthful approach to photography. Looking back and forward at the same time. For me, for example it’s important to know your history, and who came before you. I learnt a lot from them. Not only photographers but painters and sculptors too. And maybe this is one thing that is particular with this ”scene”; that it informs a broader body of references than just ”other photographers”. I think a fearless way of mixing different photograchic expressions, like very classic photography with more painterly-like expressions. Sounds like I’m describing Tillmans. I love him.

Erik Gustafsson, from the series 'Pause Between Thought and Action'


C-P: Your work also strikes me as informed by and departing from community, where the narratives seemingly revolve around the social intimacy of private circles. What importance does community play in your making?

E.G: As for community, yes my work has usually revolved around the social intimacy of private circles. My recent project 'This is Farewell' which you were part of showing at Galleri 1 in Uppsala, is about the relationship between me, my parents and my grandfather. It's also about the relationship you have with the place you grew up in, the place that in ways formed who you are now. A place can be part of a private circle, right? By the way, that book project has taken many turns since you saw it and will now finally be published by Heavy Books. Release due in Stockholm in September! But yes community again; I’m always drawn to that. The notion of belonging and to be part of something. Like is the case with most people, I guess. Sometimes I take photos of my private circle, friends and semi-friends who you feel comfortable photographing, and sometimes taking photos can lead me to be part of new communities. The perfect excuse to enter ”other” private circles.


Erik Gustafsson, from a work in progress

L.L: I think that community and intimacy is key words for my work, especially for this project I'm doing now which is based on the borderland between intimacy and violence. I’ve taken most of the pictures in my private circle or my circles' circles, which I believe have made it possible for the moment to be so intimate and present. Although, I think there is something really interesting about entering other communities, (which can be super intimate as well) and being let in to peoples lives and getting to know and learn about communities that before have felt closed or mysterious. That’s the magic about a camera. A classic comment, but it’s true! So, without community I probably wouldn’t have been interested in photography at all.


Luna Lopez, Untitled, from ongoing project


C-P: What's interesting you in contemporary photography on an international level right now?


E.G: What I’m interested in now about contemporary photography on an international level… I could drop some names like Harley Weir and Jamie Hawkesworth. It will probably sound so boring but I think it’s interesting to see how valued and respected the quality of their works appear to be. In these digital times when everything is fast and everything is easy and everything can be done so easily, and everyone is a photographer...there’s an appreciation I have for quality, for handmade prints in the darkroom, for knowledge of the material you’re working with, for great colours and composition. So I guess I’m interested in the very basic stuff you learn at preparatory art school Don’t actually know if I think it’s interesting, I just like it when I see it because those things are important to me as well. What is interesting though, is maybe that there is some kind of analogue trend going on now.


And why I mention all of this is probably because I’ve quite recently realized I’m not only a photographer but also a printmaker. Equally. Yes, I appreciate a good print.


Erik Gustafsson, from the series 'Pause Between Thought and Action'

L.L: Hmm, I think that the borders between different genres having become so loose fascinates me, or that it’s more seen that you can mix genres with each other. I have for example developed a great love for some fashion photography, where the aesthetics has been mixed with the personal and documentary-angled photography.

Luna Lopez, Untitled, from ongoing project


C-P: Given the times, how has Covid-19 impacted you directly in your practice and plans and what's next for you in 2020?


E.G: Covid-19 hasn’t impacted my practice that much actually. During this time I’ve mostly been editing the book I'm doing together with the very excellent Sandberg&Timonen and instead of meeting at their office we’ve been doing it online. It has worked out very well.


With no access to workplaces like the darkroom,I’ve instead been organizing my own archive abd getting a decent overview of all the material I have. And from there I’ve started to work on what might be the next book. Still too early to say anything about that other than it will be handmade prints from the darkroom with great colours and composition.

Erik Gustafsson, from a work in progress


L.L: Well, first of all school is closed, which sucks when I literally was there from 9 AM to 1 AM most of the days, so it feels like I’m living a completely different life right now, where my productivity has been challenged. First of all there is no darkroom anymore and it takes a lot longer for the lab to develop my films than when I could do it at school. I’ve decided to edit my pictures for my upcoming project on the computer instead of in the darkroom as planned, just to not stand still and keep on working, even though it wouldn’t have been my first choice to do it that way. Besides that, the access to communities as we talked about before, has also been limited, so the past couple of months I’ve mostly been shooting the ones I have near. I don’t think that this change of lifestyle only has been bad for me, since I’ve felt a new energy and desire to create, and it’s given me space to think about projects that I want to make.


Luna Lopez, Untitled, from ongoing project


My plans for the rest of the year is just to shoot shoot shoot, collect as many pictures as possible and then look at them later on. It also depends a bit on whether school opens up or not, if not I might take a gap year to have full access to the facilities on my last year.



Images courtesy of the artists.








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