Gabriel Isak is a Swedish photographer currently based in Stockholm. His dreamy and otherworldly photographs stir feelings of loneliness and melancholy through his use of isolated and anonymised figures within surreal landscapes.
How did you get started in photography and how would you describe your work?
I began exploring photography about 12 years ago, when I faced depression as a way to express my state of mind. I picked photography up again to make it a profession in 2014 after I had battled the depression during a seven year long struggle. From there on it has been a medium I use to document the internal and external world we live in working with themes inspired by the human condition as well as psychology, dreams and mental health.
I would describe my work as metaphors for experiences of the soul, a body of work that is surreal and melancholic, while depicting an introspective world of being human and facing the existential feelings that comes with.
A lot of your work focuses on [solitary] figures, elements of disconnection and loneliness. How much of these ideas relate to your own experiences?
Most of my ideas has developed from experiences from my own life (and subconsciously made themselves into my photography) whether it has been my depression or other form of experiences that has broken me, shaped me or made me question life in general and the path I’m on. I never like giving details away or showing the faces of my subjects, but to keep the photos transparent and opaque so the viewer can develop their own personal relationship to the image they encounter from my portfolio.
Your work is rooted in surrealism, minimalism and an element of mystery. Where do you draw inspiration from for ideas?
I grew up in a very gloomy and blue city. I spent the first 21 years of my life here in Sweden and was always inspired by the Scandinavian nature that is very minimal and cold and transforms into a surreal landscape that is very perfect and graphic in its visualization. After my depression I went to art school and became very interested in the surreal era that involved some of the greatest artist of our times like Magritte. I also began to do a lot of research on psychology at this time and explored the work of Carl Jung who has also inspired my work. Lately I’ve been very fascinated by Sartre’s work, probably cause it related a lot to my current life experiences and the project I’m currently working on.
I’m curious about the process of making. How long does it take from conception to the final image being ready? Is making something you prefer to do alone or are others involved?
Most of my work is made by myself unless I have a model or team involved in making an image. I work a lot with self-portraiture, but it’s always anonymous and abstract, for the reason that my work is so personally inspired that I know exactly how I want the subject to look in an image. I’m also always available and will do anything to get the image I want wether it is to travel to white dunes and taking self portraits or stepping into an ice cold lake or snow field.
I always visualize the image before hand in form of a sketch through brainstorming and decide 90% of the visual elements of how the image will look like. This makes the photographic process fairly easy and fast unless something goes wrong on location and I have to compromise. The rest of the time is spent behind the screen where I finalize the image in post-production.
What challenges have you faced when creating images?
Weather changes have been a big obstacle in many of my shoots as I mostly work on location. Also I haven’t been doing this for very long, so sometimes my ideas have been too complex for me to figure out how to photograph them, but I keep pushing myself and learning so I can create those works as well.
Is there any one image that stands out that is a personal favourite and why?
A personal favorite fram the last year is an image titled Existence from my latest and ongoing series Entities. An image that perfectly depicts how I’ve been visualizing a lot of the world around me in the last year and that is very personal to me. Felt really good to get that image out of my system and look at it from the other side.
What do you hope viewers take away from your images?
I hope they will step away from all the disturbing duties and notifications we have in our society today, and allow themselves to reflect deep inside themselves and interact with the internal figures represented in my work and in turn reflect back on their own journey in life. I think we spend so little time today just by ourselves without phones, people or other factors that I think it can be really healthy to just take a moment for ourselves and look deep inside of what’s going on in our life. I never like to give away the meaning behind each image as I work in an abstract and conceptual matter and think that each person will have a different opinion or experience with my work.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a long term project on existentialism named Entities as well continue to explore new directions in my work. Also working on new future exhibitions and an upcoming book that will be released in the near future.
@gabriel_isak on Instagram