Jonas Lindström: Understanding the Broader Context

Jonas Lindström, born in 1988, is a young, up-and-coming fashion and portraiture photographer. He splits his time between Berlin and London. Jonas has worked with publications and clients such as Rolling Stone, Interview Magazine, Nike Sportswear, Nokia and Wallpaper* Magazine. He is currently finishing up his studies in graphic design at Berlin University of the Arts and below explains how he finds it difficult to think in traditional schemes.

Q: Can you provide a little background on the portfolio you sent us? Many of the portraits have a distinct retro feeling reminiscent of the classic fashion portraits of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Do you agree, and is this a conscious element in your style?

A: Yes, Interview Magazine approached me with the assignment to create a series of portraits of actors in Berlin during Berlinale. Berlinale is, apart from the art world, one of the truly international happenings in Berlin. It is an annual film festival for both very big and independent releases. The film selection is not at all focused on German cinema alone but instead is very international.

For the portfolio, the idea was to give the actors a sort of a blank canvas and see what they come up with in a certain amount of time, to create portraits in line with the distinct American style of Interview Magazine and showcase personalities. And while the background and light is always the same, their expressions make the story for me.

In regards to the retro feeling, I think this is largely because of styling and the actors’ appearances, not so much because of the photography itself.

Q: What equipment did you use to shoot this assignment?

A: I used the Leica S-System. I’ve actually produced two editorials now for Interview Magazine with the camera. I am particularly fond of the 120 mm macro lens, which is amazing for portraits, and the 35 mm for fashion. The 35 mm is especially interesting because it is a very wide angle which you can use to create images with a very abstract feel of proportion.

Q: In using the Leica S-system we assume that you’ve been shooting with the S2. What particular features of the camera do you find especially conducive to your kind of work?

A: The image quality, the richness and the detail are incredible. This is, of course, because of the great Leica glass.

Q: What features or characteristics would you look forward to having in the new Leica S when you get a chance to shoot with it?

A: For my style of working; more speed, even better auto-focus and transfer rates. In fashion and portraits I always look for special moments in which you’ll need to be able to rely on your equipment. So essentially it can never be fast enough.

Q: Despite their European classicism your portraits often convey a strong sense of the emotional character of your subjects and are therefore quite compelling. Do you concur, and can you tell us something about how you achieve this? Do you think the photographer’s relationship with the subject is a critical factor in your kind of work?

A: This for me is actually the really hard work. Setting a beautiful light is one thing, but only through communicating with your opponent you’ll be able to set a certain mood and work out something truly individual. This is very important for me.

Q: Your portrait of Fritzi Haberland in a yellow dress almost has a Jugendstil character—highly stylized, mannerist, and constricted in terms of physical expression— and yet it has a life and authenticity all its own. What were you thinking when you took this picture and what were you trying to achieve?

A: I think Fritzi and that dress were a perfect match. She seemed to be very confident in it and I wanted to portray just that. Because it’s not at all easy to wear a dress like that without it getting bigger than yourself and Fritzi truly managed that for me.

Q: The portraits of Katja Riemann and Palina Rojinski could have been taken out of a fashion magazine from the ‘30s or ‘40s, yet they also have a very contemporary feel that points in another direction. Are these in any sense, homage to the past or did you have another idea entirely?

A: This too comes down a lot to their faces and personalities. Katja for me has a very iconic and timeless face, almost like out of another era. I wanted to highlight just that. Palina is always seen in a very hip context, a lot because of her involvement with MTV. I wanted to strip down all that and just show the beautiful woman, not the girl. Through that, the images are, of course, less connected to a certain time or certain trends.

Q: Many of your images are output in black-and-white and you use of color is very restrained, which emphasizes the compositional and formal elements. What do you find compelling about the black-and-white medium and can you comment on your restrained use of color?

A: Black-and-white is great for portraiture. It strips down a person to what’s essential, creating a true image of that person. Sometimes I think it matches more our actual perception of a person, just because it is so focused and blends out the same things our eyes do too.

Q: Can you tell us about your educational background? You’re still in school, correct? Are you studying photography or something else?

A: Yes, I am actually still finishing my studies in Berlin. I assisted a fashion photographer before starting school, which really was the best thing I could have done. It really shaped me and helped me find what I wanted to pursue and made me a lot more conscious about my decision where I wanted to study.

Currently, I’m studying visual communications at Berlin University of the Arts where I’m graduating this year in traditional graphic design. I decided against studying just photography, as I was and am very interested in different disciplines coming together. While photography might be the biggest part of it, it’s nice to be able to work with typography and graphic design and to know your way around. Even more so with film which joins many different disciplines together. I like working like that, and I’d like to focus even more on projects bringing all that together. I think nowadays thinking in traditional professions is more and more difficult. Everything is very fluid.

Q: You mentioned that you don’t regard photography as isolated from other arts including graphic design and video, and there is a strong graphic design element in your work. Do you think this has been influenced by your studies or is your work a more natural and organic projection of how you see the world?

A: Choosing my studies was a conscious decision. I always had the idea of everything coming together in a fluid combination. In our current times, I find it very hard to think in traditional schemes. Everything is mixed, stylists being art directors, photographers directing films or music videos. It is of course influenced by how I see the world, as for me it is always a matter of choosing the right medium to express a certain idea. I also think everything is very connected and thus it is important to have a certain understanding of the broader context.

Q: Where do you look for inspiration? Do you have certain photographers you admire?

A: I’m very inspired by the work of contemporary photographers like Wolfgang Tillmans and Rineke Dijkstra and their contribution to the medium. But I also like to look at film and contemporary art for inspiration. I’m recently very much into Asian cinema.

I started taking pictures in my small town of my friends and I skateboarding. I still realize I’m very inspired by the skateboarding subculture I started in. It has always been a subculture very tightly connected to photography, design, filmmaking and the arts. These are people that inspired me back then, even before I actually knew who they were, and continue to do so.

Q: We note that you have been working for and with an impressive array of magazines and companies including Rolling Stone, Nike, Nokia and Mercedes-Benz. Are you shooting editorial and advertising images for them and how do you make these contacts?

A: All that has been a process since I started to take pictures. Once I moved to Berlin, I started to do my first projects in a fashion context and over time started to also publish my work. Every year new clients add up, old projects evolve and new ones appear. I hope it stays like that.

Q: How do you see your career as a photographer evolving over, say the next three years, and do you plan to explore any other photographic genres besides portraiture and fashion?

A: Film is an area of great interest for but not to replace my photography, more to counterbalance it. I’ll be working on my first full length movie as my graduation project and am trying to explore a more international context for my work, especially going back and forth between London and Berlin even more.

Thank you for your time, Jonas!

- Leica Internet Team

To connect with Jonas, visit his website.