Tommy Inberg

May 20th, 2021 // Writer: Shane Allen // Photo Journal

Do all of your photos take place in the same world?

I never really thought about it, but I think they do, in the sense that it is a kind of shadow world to the one we live in and experience but with a lot of clutter removed and some invisible stuff made visible. This world often seems a bit empty, I have always been drawn to simplicity, it is an aesthetics that really speaks to me and suits my way of working with images and ideas.

Do faces exist in this world? If they do, why do you choose not to show them?

They do, I think. When including a face in a photograph or picture I feel it might make the viewer focus too much on the face and trying to read it. For me, the faceless or unrecognizable person works better as a device to make the viewer relate, someone they can replace with themselves, or someone they can choose to observe from a distance. It is still a person, but not a specific person and that, I think, makes the picture more open-ended.

Why are most of the subjects in your photos only men?

I started doing this kind of work as a kind of therapy for myself when I was going through a rough time mentally. I was struggling emotionally and in all parts of life, and had been for a long while without really acknowledging it until I was in really bad shape. Doing these pictures was a big part of starting to feel better and I still use my own inner life, thoughts, and feelings as seeds for my pictures. Since I am a man and the pictures are born in my own self-reflection, it felt natural to use a man as a model as in some ways that man is me. I have tried using other people’s perspectives, but it never really worked out the way I wanted. I think that the stuff that goes on inside your mind, like your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and decision-making is something that in its essence is yours alone. No one else can truly understand what is going on inside of you. Self-reflection is by definition an egocentric activity, you are the center of your own inner world. Another important factor and a cause that over time has grown important for me are men’s mental health and the stigma still surrounding depression in men. I have lent my pictures to organizations dealing with this many times and my hope is that my pictures in some small way can help getting guys to think about and talk more about their feelings.

Is it necessary to be wearing a suit? Why are suits and hats so prevalent in your photos?

There is an esthetic choice behind this, but I also feel that the suit works well when I am addressing the public part of life, like going to work and partaking in society. The suit is the nice facade you are showing the rest of the world, to conform.

Would you consider your photos symbol heavy?

I would, they´re literally symbolic expressions of thoughts and feelings. When working with symbols you have a limited number of them that are universal. A balloon is light, a stone is heavy, a tree is rooted to the ground and a bird can fly and so on. One of the challenges with doing this kind of work is to use our shared visual language to make it understandable what is going on in the picture.

When do you get your first camera?

I had a very basic camera as a child and took pictures of my pets and stuff like that. I got my first “real” camera when I was 16-ish. It was a Praktica with two lenses. It had no autofocus and the metering did not work so I had to guess the light levels. With that camera, I started exploring photography seriously, but since I did not have a photo lab myself and had to get the photos developed at a shop it was a slow process. In my late teens, I bought my first digital camera and that is when my learning really took off. When you can see the result instantly it really speeds up the learning process. By that time Internet had also become a great source of information. After a while I started taking gigs as a photographer. During my 20s I did lots of different types of photography; products, portraits, events, concerts and so on. But I pretty soon realized that commercial photography was not for me and have since then focused on my own projects and tried to treat it as a hobby.

How has taking photos changed for you from when you started vs now.

When I look at my old pictures I can clearly see my current style, in the form of subjects, framing and esthetics. In some ways I think I always tried to tell the same stories with my pictures, but “pure” photography, directly in camera, was the wrong form for me, I could not consistently get it to work with what was just in front of the lens. It would have required larger scale productions on location with lighting and set-building, something I did not have the resources or patience to do. I enjoy working like I do now, collecting source images wherever I find them, shooting some parts in studio and then putting it all together and experimenting at my own pace in front of the computer. I still do a lot of single-image photography for my own enjoyment and I especially like street photography.

When's the last time you shot something outside of your niche/comfort zone? What did you shoot?

It happens from time to time that I have to shoot a portrait, and that gets me really nervous since I’m a terrible portrait photographer. I really respect good portrait photographers and their ability to understand how people want to be seen, what their “good side” is. I completely lack that talent.

Would you say one is more important than the other? Pre-production vs post production.

I always try to do as much work as possible in camera. Well planned and photographed source pictures are a much better option than doing excessive work in Photoshop; in my opinion camera work will always have better quality and look better than something put together just in Photoshop. If you do the photography really well you could technically just print your pictures, cut out the parts you want with scissors and paste them onto an empty piece of paper and be done with it. I’m not at all that skilled, but I find it to be a good reference to have in mind when doing my composites and I avoid trying to “save” badly shot source files in Photoshop. Since my source files often are collected at different times and maybe without a specific end result in mind, I try to use the same focal length, light direction/quality and viewpoint in all of them so that I can choose freely from my image library when doing a montage. That being said, I spend a lot of time in Photoshop moving things around and trying different compositions. I would say I spend about an equal amount of time behind the camera and behind the computer.

Do you ever make stories behind your photos? If so, is the story come up before or after you shoot?

I used to work with pre-meditated stories, making sketches and being really thorough in my preparations but nowadays I am more free in my workflow so the stories often develop together with the picture. One of the things I love about photography is the element of chance. Anything can happen in front of the lens and you can capture expressions and movements that you could not have planned beforehand. That also somewhat holds true for me when working in Photoshop. I love starting with an empty screen and a handful of source files and just improvising to see where it takes me. I feel that is the best way for me to work right now. When a picture is done I always have a specific story or thought behind it, but with time my perspectives change and my original stories fade away and become replaced with new interpretations. I want my work to be ambiguous so that it can be about what the viewer sees in it in a specific moment and mindset.

Why are most of the subjects anchored to the certain point they stand at?

I try to use movement and opposing forces to create dynamics in my pictures. Being anchored to the ground can be used to symbolize different things; voluntary or forced immobility, a foundation, home or stability to name a few.

It seems like mob mentality takes place in some photos of yours where there is more than one person. Is this something you’re making commentary on?

Well, most of them are me exploring my thoughts about society and my place in it, and I guess there is a bit of mob mentality creeping up in those thoughts. For good and bad we are social creatures with a strong drive to fit in with the rest of the group and I find it interesting how much of our lives are dictated by that.

What is the best memory you have with your camera?

My current camera has been with me a long time, and on many adventures. It has malfunctioned from the heat in the Nevada desert and from the cold in the Norwegian mountains, but it is still going strong and I have some great memories together with it, but the best one, that’s easy; the first pictures I took of my daughter when she was born.

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