From Reality to Dreams: Catching Beauty & Imperfections, Interview with Anders Andersson

Sky & Nostalgia: Anders Andersson’s Unique Perspectives in Photography

Anders Andersson is an award-winning freelance photographer from Sweden and a member of the Swedish Association of Professional Photographers. He specializes in editorial travel photography and aerial video/photography. He also works with editorial portraits and has extensive experience in wedding photography. Additionally, Anders is a skilled wet plate collodion artist. With a background as a news reporter, he has been working full-time as a photographer since 2001. Anders Andersson has found a balance in looking far away in detail and looking  close to the inside. His drones photos are looking from above in the way cubism were looking at life, but also seeing the planet with a touch of Piet Mondrian. From digital photographs with drones sharing a new, different and unknown point of view of our planet he led us to unique, value, character, significance and physical form with his wet plate collodion images. In 2022, Anders fell in love with the wet plate collodion process. He is drawn to the ambivalent and darker sides of art, creating work that raises questions rather than answers them. Anders create enchanting wet plate artistic images exploring the beauty of imperfections with curiosity. His stunning black and white analogue photos lead viewers in a wonderful and dreaming place. In the old collodion universe, Anders expresses universal emotions and opens portals to forgotten and lost memories and meanings.

Featured image: Aiirl/2024-1851 (Diptych) © Anders Andersson
Anders Andersson‘s official site, Instagram, Flickr

How did you get your start in photography, and what were your early influences?

My dad was in the local photography club, so I often came with him to their meetings as a kid. My first camera was made from plywood for the camera body and a piece from dad´s milking machine (I grew up on a dairy farm). Still have it today! Then, I went to Montana for a year as an exchange student and borrowed my dad´s Pentax SLR, which I used a lot (despite not knowing what I was doing really as I recall it). Years later I studied journalism, and at the school, there was a darkroom in the basement. I think it was then I really got into photography. We did internships at different newspapers as a part of our education, and I did mine at a very small newspaper called Smålänningen. The editor let me shoot pictures as well as write stories, and I still remember the first time one of my photos got printed as the main photo on the cover. All the journalists and editors raved about it. Then I knew what I really wanted to do with my life. After graduation, I started working at Hallandsposten, our local newspaper, at one of the local editing offices in a small town called Hyltebruk. At those offices, you’re supposed to shoot most of the photos yourself, so there I got my photojournalistic training so to speak. In 2001, one of the staff photographers resigned and I got his job! Then in 2007, I decided to go freelance instead. I don´t really remember that I got that much influence when starting. That was pre-internet, and I grew up on a farm far away from all sorts of cultural impressions. We listened to 80´s hit music followed by 90´s Eurodisco, drank booze, and built car stereo systems. That was it. Later on, I found Cartier Bresson, Anton Corbijn, and Lars Tunbjörk who all three meant a lot to me while forming my photography skills and style.

Anders Andersson
© Anders Andersson

What do you love most about being a photographer? What are the greatest satisfactions? What limits did photography help you overcome and what benefits in life?

There are so many benefits to this job that I don´t know where to start! (Given that you’re able to make enough money to make a living from it that is). It´s free, it’s creative, it´s never the same as the day before. You get to see exciting places meet exciting people and create something beautiful out of them. My first steady job was at a cheese wholesale company when I was 18 or 19. The job was heavy, extremely boring, tedious, and underpaid, but it was kind of creating a foundation for me somehow. No matter what I did after that, it would be better. On days when I actually do have boring assignments, I just need to recall my years at Ostcentralen to realize that I am extremely lucky to be able to do photography for a living. I think my work must be better in every way than 99% of everyone else’s!

Red Cross, Turist, Aftonbladet, Wall Street Journal, Getty Images, Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Arbete, Dagens Industri, Tidskriften Expo, Kommunalarbetaren, Kupé, TT, Tara, Vi Föräldrar, Vårdfokus, OTW, NCC, Digital Photography (UK), Greenpeace, Spoon publishing, Origo, Magasinet Filter, Vogue Living, Mashable, The Times, Daily Mail, The Huffington post, Höganäs AB, NCC, Högskolan i Halmstad, Halmstads kommun, HFAB, Södra Skogsägarna are some of the many clients of Anders Andersson

What were the biggest challenges as a travel photographer? Did you face some unexpected moments during your photography shoot that made a difference for you?

Well, shooting in unknown countries may present problems as you might not be able to read the culture right. What is appropriate and what is not? The theme of”travel” in photo competitions somewhat confuses me. What does that actually mean? Someplace away from home? But that place is home to someone else. It’s exotism for me. Not sure if that makes sense though… Anyhow, I´ve been working with a Swedish team of archaeologists in Egypt for some years now (on the theme of unexpected moments) and they wanted me to do some aerial ortophotos of the site. Egypt being a militarized country, made sure all papers were in order upon me arrival in Assuan. But no. The customs officer had been anticipating my arrival and immediately confiscated both my drones. Flying in Egypt is under no circumstances allowed. Then a young man with a holster appeared in the doorway, and a while later three high-ranking officials from the ministry of the antiques with a very worried look on their faces. Two hours later, after a phone call to some general, they managed to get me out of there. The young guy with the pistol was the secret police, who were summoned to take me away. I bet that would not be Hilton-style accommodation at his place… After that, no more drones in the luggage! Years later, when I was walking from the visa office in Cairo to board the domestic flight to Assuan, a suited guy suddenly appeared in front of me and halted me. 

– Hello sir. Any drones? 
– Eh, no. 
– OK, thank you. Welcome. 

Obviously red alert on me in their papers….

From traditional photography to drone aerial photography. What are the biggest advantages and what are the differences and limitations?

My first encounter with drones was on YouTube. Some guys flew a crude drone over a moose in a forest clearing. I thought that was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen, so began looking for drones on the internet. There was no doubt in my mind that that would be the next big leap in photography. And so it was! In those early years (from 2013) pretty much every photo was new and mind-blowing. Even though aerial photography had existed since the dawn of flying, the world hadn´t been much explored like that before, from a much lower altitude than most previous aerials. My first drone as a big motherfucker, equipped with the then newly released Sony a7. Still haven’t beaten the technical quality of those photos. 

One of the differences, at least with nadir aerials (photos shot straight down) is that they really don’t have an up or down, but can be turned anyway and still work. 

One major limitation is that flying full-frame cameras with telephoto lenses is difficult as it needs BIG drones. And in the EU big drones demand licenses that are hard and expensive to obtain. Another one is image quality. Even though DJI drones of today are technical marvels, the image quality still isn´t quite on par with ”real cameras”. Another obstacle today is the increased regulation of drone work. Here in Sweden, authorities demand to screen pretty much everything before publishing on the internet or elsewhere, out of fear that Putin´s gang will find something of military interest. No other country in our vicinity has anything similar, and since this censorship can take months to process, it´s a big hindrance for aerial work.

An advantage of those DJI machines is that they are small enough to always come along, always ready for a quick aerial photo or film clip.

Can you share with us any meaningful story behind your photos?

Well, an example near in time would perhaps be how my project about hands came about. About three years ago, my girlfriend and I were having breakfast and she told me about this dream she´d had during the night. In her dream, she was flipping through a phonebook with beautiful black and white photos of her hands, and I had shot a few of them. So we discussed that for a bit, and I thought it´d be a pretty neat idea for a book, which I hadn´t seen done before. Maybe 20 minutes later, I was doing the dishes when the phone rang. It´s a pretty far-off friend whom I know from the drone industry. We’ve met a few times but as far as I can recall never spoken on the phone before. 

So he starts by saying that he´s had this idea for like ten years, and now decided to make it happen but since he´s not a photographer he decided to call me for advice on what gear to use and so forth. So I say sure man, what´s the idea about?

– Well, I was thinking about making a photo book. With beautiful images of hands.

I felt my knees folding beneath me and just screamed ” What the fucking hell?!” The coincidence is so remote and weird I really don’t know what to make of it. Anyhow, then when I learned the wet plate process I knew that I had to make it happen. And my drone buddy Joakim called me and said he let me have the idea to realize. So far I´ve shot around 20 hands which have been exhibited at Varbergs fästning during this past spring. My goal is of course to make that book, but we’ll see how it goes. Never give out any books before so not sure how to get it done. 

How did you first get involved in wet plate collodion photography? What is it in general that you love the most about this medium? How did you learn the process, did you teach yourself? Could you tell us a little about the wet collodion process?

I´ve known that it existed, but not more than that. Being a curious mind though I have often felt I´d like to try out some of those old techniques, like cyanotype,  photo gravure, wet plate, and polaroid transfer. But never really got around to doing it. But then I saw an ad that Swedish photographer Hans Jonsson was about to have a workshop two summers ago, so then I hurried up and signed up for that. I immediately fell in love with the ethereal look of the technique. I used to do a lot of lith printing, and the creamy highlights, brownish tint, and hard shadows are similar to wet plate. But in wet plate with the addition of sudden mistakes and errors that can add a dimension and beauty to the image. Also, the provinience and difficultness of the process is something I like. It´s something very few people master, which makes it all the more cool. A wet plate shoot is almost like a magic show. Every time I put that old Nagaoka field camera up and start messing with my dark box in the back of my car, people come up and get amazed by the whole thing. Love it!

For those of you who haven’t come across it before, it´s one of the earliest photographic techniques ever invented, dating back to 1851. First, you pour collodion (nitrocellulose dissolved in ether and alcohol) onto a glass or metal plate. Then you dip the plate into silver nitrate dissolved in distilled water for a few minutes. After that, the plate is sensitive (or well; not that sensitive: iso is below 1!) to light. You put the plate in a plate holder and put that in the pre-focused and ready-to-shoot large format camera (4×5 is perhaps the most common, followed by 5×7” and 8×10”, but some use even larger format cameras like 11×14” or more!). 

After exposure, you have to develop the plate before it dries up, which perhaps is the biggest drawback of the wet plate technique: the darkroom has to be next to the camera. 

After a 10-20 second development, you put the plate in water for a short period, and after that, it´s fixed by either regular rapid fix or in KCN, calcium cyanide. The latter is a particularly nasty chemical, so many avoid it even though it has the advantage of shortening the rinsing time compared to rapid fix. After proper rinsing and drying, you have to seal the plate to keep air pollution from destroying it over time. The traditional way of doing this is with sandarac, which is harts from a Moroccan tree that is ground and mixed with lavender oil and alcohol. If all is done by the book, you then have an image that will last if not forever so many generations. 

Can you tell us about the projects you created in wet plate collodion and what drew you to make them? How long did it take you from the idea to the final project?

Once I learned the technique, I´ve been shooting all kinds of things in wet plate, just to see what it looks like. My hand project is ongoing, and just yesterday I had a shoot with the oldest person in all of Scandinavia, Gunborg Hancock. At 112, she still had witty humor and wouldn´t let anyone push her around. I´ve also found myself diving into different subcultures, like pro wrestlers or 1700s war enactors. Most of the projects I start I never finish. Either because I simply lose interest or because I don´t know how to take them further. So my archive is full of… stuff that never saw the light of day. Sad, but true.

004 Anders Andersson Drone Photography
© Anders Andersson

Do you think there is a benefit during the digital and AI photography era in learning analog processes? What can it help strengthen? What is the biggest lesson a photographer can learn from it?

Well, many of my collodion colleagues are very strongly opposed to AI and think it´s the end of the world. It might be, but there is no point in wasting energy on trying to stop it. It won´t go away. One of the projects I´ve started but not come very far with involves AI and wet plate. First, I render an AI image which I capture on a wet plate by photographing the computer screen. Then I try to recreate that image in real life and shoot that too on a wet plate. So far just one diptych, which turned out pretty cool. I hope to make more, but it´s a rather time-consuming project. If nothing else AI can work by creating visual stuff a photographer can be inspired by and use when creating real photography. But whether it can do anything for analogue photography in particular I can´t say really. 

What do you think will be the evolution of photography in the era of social media and the creation of websites that sell photographic prompts?

Hmm, haven’t really thought about that, at least not the selling prompt thing. I´m sure that can be a business like other weird businesses out there. Prompting is definitely an art in itself.  Many seem to think that AI images just appear without any effort, but that´s not the case at all. Regarding social media and photography – I find myself getting bored with most of what I see out there. Very seldom something unique with the” wow, that I haven´t seen before”-effect shows up. Most everything is versions of old stuff. Guess it will be harder and harder to come up with truly original stuff as time goes on. 

Photos courtesy of Anders Andersson

Last Updated on May 29, 2024 by retrofuturista

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