Homemade is best
Carl Kleiner is a Swedish photographer based in Stockholm. His distinctive images have been published in fashion magazines, and on billboards around the world.
How do you come up with your ideas?
I always carry a custom bag for two rolls of film and my sketchbook. When I am bored or have a spare moment, I usually sketch – I have a lot of sketchbooks on the shelf filled with good and bad ideas. Both ideas and the line of action tend to be born in the shower or on my morning walk.
You shot a very unique and eye-catching series of photographs for IKEA’s cookbook. What was your process?
I worked on this project together with Evelina Bratell, who is a stylist and my fiancee. Evelina made a lot of paper cutouts in shapes similar to the ingredients we later used. Since the ingredients were pretty greasy and hard to move around, it was important to have a clear idea of how everything would be placed.
With the cutouts, we tested different compositions and planned the execution of each image in advance. It took a couple of weeks before we started shooting. During the actual production, we made an average of four images per day.
The biggest challenge before we started was to make the boring ingredients, such as flour and sugar, interesting. Once we’d begun, the ingredients that we expected would be easiest to work with, such as strawberries, proved to be the most difficult.
What messages do you think it conveys?
The concept was developed by advertising agency Forsman & Bodenfors. I think the very organised grids and compositions, in combination with the organic materials on the colourful backgrounds, was the key to its success. When raw materials are shot in this way, as consistent and clean, you see the textures and shapes in a whole new way. The concept really fits IKEA, as they deliver their products in sections and pieces, with accompanying instructions.
Have you ever tried to create a narrative through one of your images that didn’t work as you hoped?
This happened recently. I made a series I call Zootany, a mix of zoology and botany. I used both photography and drawing, and felt very happy with the results. When I showed it to the client, he didn’t understand the bigger story. I was disappointed at first, but realised pretty quickly that there was some material missing from the piece, that prevented it from being a coherent whole. I will continue working on the project. It will be great eventually.
Do you prefer to photograph objects to people?
Objects are much easier than living creatures to work with. They never complain that they are tired (except wilting flowers and melting ice).
You can twist and turn an object however much you want, without insulting it. I also find it easy to give personalities to dead things. That said, I don’t dislike photographing people. I do so much still life probably because my portfolio contains a lot of still lifes, and so I get more still-life commissions.
Do objects have a life on their own?
Before I started photographing professionally, I often shot things around me that I thought looked alive: cabinets, drainpipes, houses. The first time I went to New York, I came home with hardly a picture of a skyscraper but with a lot of pictures of happy telegraph poles and sad manhole covers.
I have a friend who is an abstract painter. He hates to show me his paintings because I always see something figurative in them. My brain is always looking for life in inanimate objects and abstractions.
That way of looking affects the way I work. Consciously or subconsciously, I set the light, and place the objects in a way that gives them some kind of life.
What are the broader themes of your work?
Emotion, harmony, experiments of different kinds, unexpected meetings.
Which visual storytellers do you admire?
Past: Irving Peng, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Frida Kahlo.
Present: David Lynch, Sophie Calle, Tim Walker, David Simon, Bryan Ferry.
Source: Visual Storytelling – Gestalen; www.carlkleiner.com