Sweden based photographer and visual artist Tommy Ingberg has received awards and recognition from various competitions including Prix De La Photographie Paris and Sony World Photography Awards. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity for a brief written interview with him.
Tommy, how would you characterize the art and work you do?
I work with photography and digital image editing, creating minimalistic and self-reflecting surreal photo montages dealing with human nature, feelings and thoughts.
How did you originally get into your art?
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 five 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. When I “found” my art and got to focus my creative energy on that I also in many ways found an identity and a purpose that have helped me in all aspects of my life; and that is really the greatest success I’ve had.
How do you develop the story telling elements behind your work?
I try to work disciplined and methodically in my creative process, but I’m really nowhere near to understanding it and sometimes it just feels like chaos. I think the most important part of it all is to give myself time to think and reflect, that’s when I can start putting a piece together in my head. I carry around a notebook to sketch down ideas and thoughts into. An also very important part is to actually do work, to shoot and edit as much as I can, even if the majority of work ends up in the bin. When I have a somewhat finished idea of a piece I proceed by shooting the photographs I need, preferably in studio with controlled lighting. I then put it together in Photoshop. I often need to do a first draft before I can finalize the idea; to see what works visually and if I need to reshoot some source files. Often I can end up quite a bit from the original sketch, but that is part of the fun for me; to surprise myself with the end result, letting the process be fluid with spur-of-the-moment decisions. I try not to over-think my work or workflow. It is emotional rather than intellectual; the work is self-reflecting, the stories comes from within and the workflow is very much driven by joy of creating.
How do you position the lights to get the effects you have in your photo montages?
As an artist what is different about your process from other photographers?
I can’t speak for other artists workflow, but something very different with this work compared to my previous purely photographic work is the amount of work I can produce. With just the camera I could produce a series of pictures from one idea or session, but with my current kind of work everything takes more time.
What are some challenges that you faced to get to where you are?
Time is and has always been the toughest challenge. I’ve done this beside a full time job for several years and it takes discipline and sacrifice to keep going, spending nights, weekends, vacations and holidays on my art. I still am dependent on other income than my art, but it has gotten me to a point where I’m happy with my situation; I get to be creative and manage my own time. Another challenge has been keeping sight of why I do this, why it matters to me and why I love it. As the audience grow it’s easy to let it affect the work and to feel pressure. I try to keep my art something joyful I do for myself and try not to care so much about what others might think.
What are you currently working on? Do you shoot or work on your art everyday?
Currently I’m working on a couple of new pieces for my “Solitaire” series. I try to work on the art everyday and have a constant flow of ideas and pieces.
What do you currently shoot with?
I shoot with a Canon EOS 7D with a couple of L-lenses and Elinchrom lighting, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s more than enough for my current workflow.
Where do you find 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.
I am an avid record collector and I love discovering music that way. I also use Spotify to find new music. I almost always have music playing and listen to almost any genre, everything from free jazz to nu metal. This week, for example, I have been spinning a lot of 60s and 70s psychedelic rock like Grace Slick and Eric Burdon but also some contemporary classical stuff like Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Tomita. It’s really hard to pick out just a few artists as “favourites”, but if I have to it would have to be music that’s been with me since I was a teenager and that I always come back to, because it’s familiar and I have so much personal history to it, like Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins or Swedish artists Thåström, Kent or Stefan Sundström. In terms of inspiration and my work I don’t really draw inspiration from specific songs or passages, but rather use music as a way to enhance a mood or emotions. When working on a piece or trying to come up with new pieces I try to match the music I am listening to with the feel I am going for to help me into the right mind set.
Despite movies, music, books and other external sources of inspiration I still feel that I 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.
What are your future goals?
Of course I have ambitions with my art, but in the end for me it’s about finding balance in life and spend as much time as possible doing the things I love. So as long as I get to keep being creative I’m happy.
Do you have any more advice or words of wisdom to artists?
I always feel a bit uncomfortable to give advice to anyone, but if there is anything I’m trying to remind myself of it is that you only have one shot at life, so try to spend as much time as possible doing what you love. Figure out what is important to you and what is not.
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m focusing on creating new work and developing my craft. In May I will exhibit during the International biennial of photography, arranged by The National Museum of Photography in Colombia. Other than that I don’t have any concrete plans; Last year was turbulent with a lot of things stealing focus from creating. I also became a father for the first time which of course was a huge change, both mentally and practically. Now I’m just enjoying a calm period of creating and spending time with my family.
You can find more of Tommy at: