If you feel that you are peeking into somebody else’s dreams when looking at Swedish photographer Gabriel Isak’s work then your instincts are spot on. Isak’s hypnotic, cryptic photographs are inspired by the inner world of dreams. Often featuring solitary figures whose faces are obscured, they depict surreal, hallucinatory scenes full of melancholy, apprehension and bewilderment in an attempt to lyrically convey the gist of human experience. Drawing from his own subconscious, Isak invites viewers to project their own deep-seated fears and desires onto the enigmatical scenarios he has soulfully recreated. Channeling the surrealist art of René Magritte, the photographs tap into our unconscious states initiating a process of soul searching and dream interpretation. Yatzer recently caught up with Isak to talk about his dreamlike work, his 'psychoanalytical' approach to photography, and his affinity for the colour blue.
(Answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.)
What inspired you to become a photographer? Whas it a goal you grew up with?
I got a camera when I was about fifteen years old and used it to document my external and internal world. I would experiment with self-portraiture a lot; it was very healing to express my thoughts and emotions through images.
Where did your “psychoanalytical” approach to photography originate from?
At the time I started photography I was going through a depression that had just started to creep up on me, and the camera became a tool to express myself. Soon the depression took over and I could no longer take photos till many years later when I was at University pursuing a career in photography. Those intermediate years became at the time the source of my inspiration and I unconsciously started to create images about depression and psychology.
Although you often use people in your work, we seldom see their faces. Is that an invitation to viewers to project their own personas onto your subjects or is it a reflection of the hazy reality of dreams?
When portraying people I often cover them symbolically to ensure their anonymity so the spectator can peek into their own world as they interact with the subject, and in turn reflect on their own journey in life.
What are your criteria for choosing the settings for your photographs? Do aesthetics play as significant role as conceptual considerations?
Definitely. I always try to accompany each idea I have with a fitting setting that will help tell its story. Graphics play a big role in choosing my aesthetic. I often visualize a concept in terms of graphic design, choosing shapes, colours and lines to be a backdrop for the idea, with the subject completing the composition of the final image.
Tell us about your creative process. Do you plan everything in advance or do you experiment on set? How long do the photo shoots usually take?
I mostly begin with doing research or brainstorm. Then props are decided on as well as location, mood, colours, model, outfits etc. Every photo shoot is 90% planned in advance but there is always an allowance for extra time in case something doesn’t go as planned on set, especially when working outside. If everything goes smoothly one image can be done in 5 minutes, but lately I have been shooting a combination of different images/ideas on the same day, which means an additional couple of hours of experimentation on set.
How much post-production is there in your work? Do you believe that digital tools are a blessing to art photography?
Post-production has definitely helped my work to achieve the otherworldly atmosphere I try to bring to it. I always shoot everything I use in an image on the same location, and try to get as much as I can on camera. My post production process consists of adjusting the light, the colours and sometimes the composition, like replacing the sky or adding a levitating object, all of which were shot on the same location.
Blue seems to be a highly charged, symbolic colour in your work. What are you trying to convey or represent?
I use blue to depict a different dimension, often relating it back to themes of melancholia, existentialism and origins. I also use blue colours to create a tranquil atmosphere in my work.
Many of your photographs bring to mind the surrealist work of René Magritte. What artists have inspired you in your work?
René Magritte has been a mentor and influence in my work. Someone pointed him out when I began sharing my images online in 2014-2015 and a whole new world opened up for me. I am embarrassed to say I had no idea who he was before that, but I immediately began exploring him and other surrealists. Other inspirations have been Swedish photographer Julia Hetta, but also Carl Jung and Sartre who have been big influences in my ideas.
What are you working on right now? Any exhibitions on the horizon?
I'm currently working on a series named Entities exploring existentialism, which I hope to exhibit in a gallery when completed and release in a book format, as well as shooting a collaborative project with Hasselblad. At the moment I am participating in a group exhibition in Sydney this month and also have an upcoming group show in Paris in November.