Douglas Ljungkvist is a Brooklyn based fine art photographer. Originally from Goteborg, Sweden, Douglas is a self-taught photographer who likes to explore and observe urban space and environment. His photography paraphrases the discreet charm of minimalistic urban landscape and its association with our collective memory, altered atmosphere and post-modernistic culture. His works have been widely exhibited in galleries around the world.
Douglas has received many awards and honorable mentions; most recent and notable among them is 2014 Finalist LensCulture Awards. His first monograph ‘Ocean Beach’ has been published by Kehrer Verlag in 2014. The book includes 92 color photographs and introductions by Harvey Benge and Steve Bisson.
It was a very difficult task to select 20 images out of 45 Douglas provided for this feature. After giving in a lot of time I came close to these images that bear a unique urban form and character. Besides his exemplary images, it’s the straightforward and down-to-earth approach of Douglas to photography and related things that impress me most. Here’s a short discussion with this very talented visual artist:
Please tell me about yourself and your relationship with photography:
I’m originally from Gothenburg, Sweden but have lived the last 25 years in New York (Brooklyn, now). I started photographing about 10 years ago, first to make better vacation photos. I took an introduction class at Manhattan Photo and was pretty much hooked right away.
My work is very personal and does therefore not fit under documentary, so let’s go with Fine Art. If I would further classify it I would say vernacular (urban landscape) photography.
What elements or characteristics of a place, environment or thing do you like to capture in your urban/landscape images? What do you like shooting most?
I prefer environments with no trees, no cars, and no or few people. That’s why I often find myself photographing around the industrial areas of Brooklyn, especially on Sunday when all the businesses are closed and there are few cars and people around. I also like the functional and simple construction of the architecture there as compared to the more ornate and beautiful brownstone (residential) areas in Brooklyn.
It took me about 5 years to really develop my photographic voice, both subject matter wise and how I wanted my photographs to look. Form is at least as important as content for me, how something looks, and feels, as opposed to what it depicts.
Over time I think my photographic interest will change and develop. I suspect it might get more conceptual with time. I might even do something in black and white.
My process is what’s most important to me, a solitary search for vernacular beauty. I often return to places over and over to find what’s new, different, or temporary. I think my ideas reflect my personality and background all the way back to my childhood. I don’t recall having any creative blocks but I do get restless at times waiting for good light as I’ve become pickier over time. I prefer overcast conditions, where you can still sense the light but overcast enough not to produce any shadows. It’s a challenge in New York where we get so much sunshine year round.
If there is one theme that all my work could be associated with, it’s beauty, things that I like how they look and feel. For me that’s partly what I love about photography, how it makes me focus on the positive, as I tend to be a bit of cynic and glass-half-empty person, outside of photography.
My goal when I started developing photographic bodies of work was to publish a book. I see most of my projects as books, actually. ‘Ocean Beach’ was ready to be published before Superstorm Sandy hit the (New) Jersey shore. At first I didn’t want to document the aftermath or include it in the book. But after not having access for several months I started to change my mind when I went back and kept documenting. For the book we decided to make two separate sections. I think it was the right decision and made for a stronger and unique book. In retrospect I wish we hadn’t use the word “Sandy” or mention of the specific storm as I don’t want the work to be tied to that specific event.
About photobooks in general, though some photos always stand out in a series I think the sum of my work is often greater than its individual parts. I think that can make for good books, and the types with a strong narrative that tells a story, informs, or educates. But then again, with today’s photobook craze, anything goes.
I’m glad that I went the route of using an established photobook publisher. Self-producing is not for me. I prefer to use professionals for editing, layout, text, and I supply the photography.
For ‘Ocean Beach’, the part before the storm, I used a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. Now I use the Nikon D800 mostly with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
I usually edit on a pretty regular basis to stay updated. Now I don’t think I’ve looked at any photographs I’ve take since September. I’m not sure why that is.
A favorite moment was when I was photographing for my travel portfolio in the Dominican Republic. I got caught in a downpour and was hiding under a big tree. Next to it were sounds of instruments coming from a cinderblock building with a corrugated metal roof. Turns out it was a music school for children. The teacher saw me trying to take cover and invited me into their classroom. The children were all very curious who this “gringo” was. He didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish but we still managed to communicate. I asked if it was ok to photograph as the children kept practising on their flutes. He nodded his approval. I got a pretty nice photo out of it. But more important, the experience to sit there and observe and listen as the rain pounced on the metal roof was something that I could never have planned for and a wonderful experience.
I look very little at contemporary photography. I feel that contemporary photography, not necessarily what’s being produced, but brought to the foreground is very polarized. It’s either very literal photographs used to tell a story or it’s experimental, abstract, or surreal. My own theory for this is that it’s the critics, writers, and curators attempt to separate the “artists” from the photographers as there are just too many photographs (for them) to look at and take seriously.
I can’t say that I love social media as it relates to photography. There is a trend that who shouts the loudest gets the most attention. Personally I have chosen to downsize my activities online. I don’t do Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or Flickr, and I post fewer and fewer photos on Facebook. I don’t think it’s a recipe for success but I prefer to do what’s most comfortable for me. Hopefully people will still find my work and enjoy it.
To finish and publish more of my current photography projects. I have several new bodies of work in progress that I’m feeling out. One is conceptual and extremely slow growing. Another will be completed November 8, 2016. A third is my first critical look at something. Until now I have only photographed things and places that I like how they look. This is the opposite. It has a deeper narrative and includes more people. It’s challenging for me to try taking photographs that are visually pleasing to me, in places that I don’t like to be or how they look.
If you’re just starting out, try not to limit yourself to the type of photographer you “want to be”. It might not be what you do best. Try different genres, take risks, experiment.
Try to find some people you trust and respect to help look at and edit your work. Resist the temptation of uploading tons of unedited photos to social media for comments as it creates a perception which you might not want once the body of work is more mature. Perceptions can often be more difficult to change that facts. My experience with this is that most of your early favorite photographs of a project will not make it into later edits as the work matures and gets better. Only show your best work!
Look within yourself for ideas, shoot what you know, shoot what you love. Some people think one produces ones best work outside our comfort zones. My opinion is that it’s the opposite. As I like sports analogies. If I had Leo Messi on my team, I would not have him play goal keeper, though he might be good at that, too. Let him do what he does best!
All photos © Douglas Ljungkvist : Website