Johanna Torell

Wolf recently sat down with Malmö based fine art photographer Johanna Torell, to discuss the future, her inspiration and her new book of photographic delights, Hemifrån.

Johanna’s work definitely has a defined look, standing out against the monotonous style of traditional Swedish fine art photography, she began her film obsession when she was little, covering herself in paint and taking self portraits.  Inspired by the creative people in her life and the dramatic Scandinavian landscapes she grew up with, Johanna’s work tells us a story that feels like there is no middle, beginning or end, just a singular emotion, instance or moment captured on film. Releasing three coffee table books through publisher, Permanent Sleep, in Toronto, has meant Johanna can explore her art past the restrictions of exhibitions, and take her pictures into the homes of those who purchase the book, making her work remain within their everyday space, and leaving an impression long after the gallery lights have been turned off.

Johanna tells us more… 

So what’s happening with your new book? Is it your third now?
At the end of this year there will be three and they are all through the same publishing house, Permanent Sleep in Toronto where I used to live. The one coming out now is of photos I had taken one year back and the book that will be released at the end of the year will be a collection that I am working on now. I’m renting a cottage in Iceland, and I’m bring a girl I always photograph, Manuela, with me and we’ll take a bunch of photos. We will head there in August or September, it can’t be too cold as there will be a lot of nudes, and I’m not the one getting undressed anymore, I stopped doing self portraits!

It was Matt from Permanent Sleep who approached me about publishing my first book, and as a brand, Permanent Sleep has evolve so much and we all help each other out. Matt has good ideas, for example I like records so he created the book and it’s cover sleeve to look like a 7 inch, and because the book was not so strong, we put this in (holds up a thin piece of illustrated wooden board) which my friend Simon painted, who also has a book out with Permanent Sleep. We all work together a little bit, which I really like! So I am really happy about the book. It was a really good point for me, because I was like ‘okay, I will do this book then I can leave all those photos behind me and start new’, I have to do that otherwise I’ll keep on going on it!

Are the books a continuation from each other? 
I feel that every photograph that I take, because they have a certain style to them, has a theme running throughout anyway, for example even in my colour, which is not much, I incorporate this style so it not really a series its more of a collection. Each one tells a story I guess, I had a weird year, so I guess they all kind of relate to each other in that way (laughs)

How have you found publishing books in comparison to exhibitions? 
I feel like I really like giving out books, and also people purchase them, that’s the best thing really! When you have an exhibitions on, it can be anyone looking at your pictures and maybe someone doesn’t like them, but I really like when people purchase my things because its sort of a confirmation for me to keep going. Matt Finner, who is head of Permanent Sleep, has really given me so much space to do exactly what I want to do. He has such great ideas and every time I put something out with Permanent Sleep I just feel super content and if I do an art exhibition sometimes I am not so crazy about them!

What got you started?
I started taking photographs when I was super young, and at that time it was like covering myself in paint and doing weird shit. From that time until now, I’ve always felt like who is going to see this? I feel like this is me and this is what I do now, and I love doing it, I’m never stopping, I don’t care if I make money off it or not.

Without Little Finger magazine, I wouldn’t have got my picture out there. It’s hard moving from Toronto where you have a platform… the Swedish art scene is so traditional…You have to go into it from such a weird way, taking band photos or fashion photography, That’s why I love Little Finger because they don't care if you have an education or if you have an educated vision of art. 

Inspiration, what gets you snapping?
I get inspired by seeing a landscape that I want to take a photo in, like the sheet landscape to me, it’s not bed, it’s something else… What made me stop doing portraits?? The fact I couldn’t get my self-timer to work on my manual camera, and I grew older and I cant really, well if I have to press the button and then go running for photos, like I have 15 seconds to get there I can never get it quite right, and it doesn't look the way that I want it to. Manuela has this super Scandinavian, weird thing about her, she just fits it! People want to be a part of my photos and they didn't before. I’m very luck to have Manuela, I’ll sit down with her and say this is what I want, and I don't have to say anything else, she just goes ‘ok!’ and becomes a part of the landscape. 

Where are you based at the moment?
Mostly in Malmö, I haven’t been travelling much, in my coming book there will be an explanation for that, I felt the need to kind of excuse myself, because I have always presented myself as such a roamer! Then my dad passed away and I thought I couldn't do it anymore and needed to stay in one place, I was literally terrified about what might happen while I was gone, so I had to work through that. It was weird for someone who really likes to run away! 

See more of Johanna's work on her website & blog:

Words: Ash Francisco
Photographs of Johanna: Karim Helgstrand Nour
All other photographs Johanna Torell


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