Mesmerized: Kalle Gustafsson
I spend a lot of time researching these Spotlight articles, not because I have to or it’s part of my job, but because I truly enjoy it. I love looking at other photographers’ work and I love reading their stories. I also love the historical aspect of it and finding out who paved the road before us. This Spotlight is a bit different, however. Simply put, the work of Swedish photographer, Kalle Gustafsson is mesmerizing. It didn’t matter to me that I could not find out a lot of information about his background, his influence, or his gear. I spent hours just looking at his work. I realized it didn’t really matter whether I shared his life story, what was really important to share are the photographs.
Gustafsson’s images are extremely cinematic. When I look at them, I feel like I am looking at just part of a bigger story. They really make me wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. Who are the people? Why are they there? Why does this woman look sad? Where is he going? Many of his photographs have the distinct feel of a French or Italian movie from the 1960’s. You can almost picture Sophia Loren walking through the scene and being perfectly in place. They almost make me feel voyeuristic, like I’m watching something I shouldn’t be watching, but can’t bring myself to look away.
There is a romance to the images. They are not blatantly sexual, but they are sexy. They are not sensual, but they are sensuous. They draw you in and make you want to be a part of that world. It is completely different from the overly slick, overly retouched fashion ads you see today. They are not “in your face” trying to sell you something. That type of ad tends to make me want to turn away because they are simply too much. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought behind them, except how can they push their product on you in the most direct way. Gustafsson tends to be more indirect and subtle.
I can’t help but contrast his images with someone like Terry Richardson, who is very popular right now and I find myself very confused as to why. It doesn’t seem like Richardson puts a lot of time or thought into his photography. His “run and gun” approach of using an on-camera flash and white backdrop to cast harsh shadows seems almost like cheating to me. There isn’t a real style there, but more of a gimmick. Richardson’s shots are harsh, glaring and, frankly, obnoxious. There is really nothing unique about them. Gustafsson’s photos on the other hand feel natural, not staged or forced. They make me want to look at more.
As photographers, we often talk about how to discover a style. Do we chase after it? Does it somehow find us? How do you figure out what it is that you do that’s different from everyone else? I tend to think that a style comes from within you and that if you force it than it really isn’t your style, it’s probably been copied from someone else. Style needs time to evolve, to gestate, to come naturally and with practice…lots of practice. You need to see how you shoot, what you enjoy shooting, what the things are that you look at and are inspired by. Gustafsson has a very obvious and consistent style. Being inspired by music, movies, and photographers such as Helmut Newton and Irving Penn, he has fine-tuned his aesthetic and doesn’t force his work to be something it isn’t.
There are also the technical aspects of his work. His composition, the posing and expressions of the models, the desaturated yet rich use of color – there seems to be nothing missing and yet there isn’t too much to take in. I also love the lighting he uses. It all feels very natural. I found myself, perhaps through habit, wondering what type of strobes or modifiers he uses – surely, he must use a softbox. But then, I click to the next photograph and become drawn in all over again.
When I look at someone else’s work, I usually do it to be inspired because I want to learn and continue to grow to be better than I am. Gustafsson’s work does that for me. His photographs have a warmth and an intimacy and remind me just how inspiring and powerful photographs can be.