“Enthusiastic” is a bit of an understatement when it comes to describing Nils Karlson. He's just a pool of energy and ideas that sometimes, it all overflows and rubs off on you. That's what we get from his electric vibe. And when it comes to photos and love for film, we have nothing but admiration for him. His style, no, his “language” is so clean and composed that it's borderline serene. Electric and serene are pretty contrasting traits but Nils manages to balance the two naturally. Before we get too excited and ramble on, we give you, Nils Karlson.
Hello, Nils. Welcome to the Lomography Online Magazine! How did you get started on your photographic journey?
Thank you for having me here, I am honored! The reason for me to get a camera were...my cats. And when we got dogs, they were another good reason to dig deeper into photography. Also, during a hiking vacation on La Palma (Canaries), I found joy and peace in the silence of nature. This may well have been one of the biggest epiphanies in my life, as I realized a deep urge to photograph landscapes.
How would you define photography?
Oh, that's a tough one. Technically it may be every process which needs light and chemicals or electronics to produce an image? Ugh, that sounds awful. Maybe photography is dancing to light?
What do you like most about it?
First of all, it the best excuse for me to get out into nature and seek silence, peace, and simplicity. It gets me closer to my dogs, spending more active time with them – I still speak in plural, although we only have one dog since September 2017... And then there is the part of creating, which I find to be rather fascinating: a painter, for example, can create a physical image (painting) of a subject which does not exist in the outside world just by using imagination. Everything we can think of can be painted, no matter if it is realistic idea (let's say a tree), or something which is less likely to exist in the outside world (let's say a rainbow colored cat flying through outer space pooping galaxies of dancing tadpoles). The creative process in photography is different because we have to find a real subject in the outside world, which resonates with our inner life, build a connection between these two, and then create a physical object.
It seems like other art forms look down at photography as the unwanted stepchild within the art family, as pretty much everything technical about it can be automated — everyone can produce a technical 'correct' image, while painters need to hone and practice their craft. That's a very technical perspective, and people tend to overlook the unique creative process of photography, which is always deeply connected with the outside world — at least when there is a camera involved.
We love the photos you take of shapes and objects. You shoot from unusual angles. How did you develop this style of shooting?
Thank you, that's nice to hear – though I don't perceive this as style... maybe more of an attitude? Apart from my dog photos, I try to see subjects not as what they are (a tree is a tree), but how I feel about them as shapes and tones. When I'm at the seaside, I don't see 'sea and sky', I see different tones and colors. Or when strolling through the underground parking lots of our local university, I don't see 'concrete, pole, door', but expanse, border, contrast. Technically, this often leads to shooting from angles people might find weird — shooting straight up for example. Also, I have a soft spot for the waist level finder, which makes life much simpler — especially when I want to shoot from low angles, staying on eye level with the doggos.
Your nature shots and photos of dogs are also noteworthy. What inspired you to shoot those images?
The nature shots are my escape from a world which I find too loud — visually, sonically, and even emotionally. I get away from all the blatant people who fill everything with senseless — and often destructive – noise as soon as they open their mouth...especially in recent times. No matter where I am and what or how I shoot, it is always about the quietest photo I can create in a situation. Expanse, simplicity, and quiet – that's what I like.
The dog photos are all about love. Though I love our cats, too (but they are incredibly camera-shy, so I don't force it), the doggos have a special place in my heart. Shortly after a trip to France in September 2017, our dog Rüdiger lost the battle to cancer, but all these memories traveling with him, making photos etc., are etched in my memories — which is a wonderful thing to have.
What are your favorite photo projects? What's the story behind them?
This is subject to change every day, haha! Today it is a series of cyanotypes I recently started...the very beginning of something, and I'm already looking forward to it. These cyanotypes are closely related to the long exposure seascapes, which are another favorite series. Funnily enough, last year I was pretty sure the seascapes series were about to end – and after not shooting these for almost one year, I can not wait getting back to these again and create more. Also, the dog photos never grow old on me. Sometimes I feel sad there will never be more photos of our dog Rüdiger – but I can't wait to work more with Romeo (a.k.a. Bomber), who is such an underrated talent in the world of dog models, haha!
How would you describe your style?
I must admit I am reluctant when it comes to the term 'style' — can we agree on 'language' instead? When it comes to photographic language, I try to be soft-spoken and avoid clutter — I like simple, clear, and structured sentences. Also, context is important to me, maybe that's why I prefer to shoot series.
Why choose film for your creative work?
It's a mix of reasons. The cameras are simple — just a couple of buttons and levers, each assigned to one action. No menus. I am not into these super complex computer-camera-thingies. Technically, film is quite forgiving, and you can experiment on it as an object. Aesthetically, it is much closer to human eyesight than a digital sensor. Oh, and I just dislike sitting at the computer. There's less of that with film (though scanning is just the worst!)
Why do you make images? What challenges you to create?
When I was younger, I used to build walls of sound around me — not kidding, but I think the invention of the Walkman — which meant I can take music with me everywhere I go — probably saved my life. With this tool, I could finally control what's getting into my ears and filter out all the environmental noise and people's talk. But the walls of sound started to crumble over time and were not sufficient anymore. And again, all the world would just be pouring into my ears, and there was no means to stop it – so I started to withdraw myself from life again. The discovery of silence was a quantum leap in the process of healing, and to this day, silence is a major pillar in my life.
Later, when I gathered more personal experience on how to deal with depression and hypersensitivity, I realized how photography has become such a delightful instrument that helps me to be me in this weird world. There is a brilliant video about Ryan Muirhead, where he says something like “I can't not do it” — this sentence still resonates with me.
Any artist worth following? Please, share them with our readers.
Instead of dropping big names, I'd like to name a couple of exciting and inspirational artists — feel free to look them up: Mads Madison (instant film crazy scientist / mad artist), Keith Mendenhall (a.k.a. 1255, instant film connoisseur), Anno Weihs (contemporary object artist and instant film magician), the Holy Trinity of Pinhole Camera Awesomeness: Jesús Joglar, Daphne Schnitzer, Markus Kaesler. Laura Aubrée (wetplate and anthotype fairy queen), Robert Law and Michael Garbutt (masters of the bleak landscapes and cityscapes), Zebidiah Andrews (inspirational both as a writer and photographer), Astro Beck (she IS from outer space!), Debra Bloomfield (check out her Seascapes book!), Chris Friel and Steve Coleman (who opened the world of intentional camera movements to me), and Bruce Percy (whose blog may be my most visited website these days). Also, I am very excited about the She Shoots Film magazine — they just announced their third issue, and the first two issues were fabulous.
What does a perfect day look like for Nils Karlson?
Oh, there is a vast spectrum of the perfect day! But they all include coffee, a proper hike, fluffy dogs, a deep conversation with my wife — and maybe even some photography.
Lastly, what's next for you?
The last couple of weeks were quite a whirlwind. My first solo exhibition in UK at The Kickplate Project / 76m2 Gallery will be finished, soon. This was a wonderful experience, and I couldn't be happier about the lovely people at the gallery and having Keith Mendenhall curating the exhibition. By the time this interview is published, I will be traveling the Atlantic coast of Spain with my wife and the doggo in the camper van (talking about the perfect day, eh!). When we return, I have one month for the final preparations for the artist residency at Listhús in Olafsfjordur/Iceland during November / December. For six weeks, I will be working on the theme of 'Moving Lights', which is like a dream come true. And finally, I am now represented by Thurmanovich Gallery (UK), which is such a wonderful experience working with such lovely, caring, and professional people.
Hey, maybe I can actually make a little bit of money next year, instead of just burning it for film, hahaha!