Just last night, I was having a conversation with my cousin about how addictive and dangerous social media can be if we use them excessively. If we let social media control us, it can ruin our self-esteem, and alter our views of the world and of our own lives.
The work of Swedish photographer Andreas Varro perfectly illustrates this somewhat gloomy conversation. His latest series of conceptual images shows all that’s wrong with living our lives on Instagram and other social networks. And other than being thought-provoking, Andreas’ photos are also masterfully done. DIYP chatted with this talented artist about his work. In this article, and we bring you a story about his inspiration and workflow, and of course – you’ll see some stunning photos.
When you first see Andreas’ work, you’ll notice that it’s pretty dark and gloomy. It may seem pessimistic and dystopian, which is what drew me to it immediately. I was wondering two things – where does Andreas draw inspiration from? And is his view of the world as dark as his images are?
“I draw inspiration for my conceptual art from personal life experiences, reading, and talking to people. I then choose topics of issues I feel are worth highlighting and strive to convey my stories in a way that makes the underlying dilemma clear.”
But although his photos are quite dark, Andreas actually sees our society in a positive light. He believes that we need to know the good we have created in our world and focus on development. But still, we need to be aware that there are many things to improve.
“As an observer of my art, you could think I condemn our lifestyles and the inventions we create. But I am an optimist; I see the potential for improvement in every aspect of life.” Andreas tells DIYP.
“I often use satire to tell stories and the darkness in my art is a way for me to express that what I see can improve, grabbing people’s attention. Hopefully, it will start meaningful conversations and make people discuss and think more deeply about these topics.”
As a creative myself, I’m always curious about how an artist’s thought process looks like. It’s something I always ask photographers I speak with and something I enjoy learning about their work. In Andreas’ case, it varies. Sometimes he starts with a whole concept and other times with a single object that he builds upon.
“I might see an exciting cloud in the sky and think about how I can use that cloud for one of my artworks, such as the immense amount of personal data stored in the clouds. Sometimes I use existing, known stories and concepts people already understand. It can be, for example, a biblical story, and I use them to deliver a message. This technique makes it easier to ‘lead’ the viewer forward.
Sometimes I have vague ideas, like objects or a combination of them, that have a conceptual meaning. For example, a closed hand, paperclip, vise, glue, or a nail are all objects used for fixation. These can be objects used to convey an issue that holds people back.”
But before he starts working on the final piece, Andreas always has a very clear and specific idea worked out. He makes a sketch for it and only then starts the production process. “After that, the workflow is pretty much the same and straightforward for all of my artworks,” he tells DIYP.
Since Andreas’ work mainly consists of composites, I was wondering if he takes all the photos and builds all the scenes or he also relies on stock imagery. I was amazed with the answer – he does everything from scratch: finding props, locations, models; doing the shoot, retouching… The main reasons for this are the following: quality over the raw material, control of light, composition and colors, and owning the rights to all material which enables Andreas to use his work in any way without constrictions.
“I sell all my artwork as large fine-art prints, which art collectors often inspect at a close distance,” Andreas tells us, “and that is why I want to have as much control over the quality as possible.”
Naturally, I wanted to know how long does it normally take to get to the finished image. It sounded like a super-elaborate process to me. And as it turns out, it really is.
“The production time of my artwork varies depending on the complexity of the artwork and story,” Andreas tells DIYP. So, there’s no universal answer, but it can extend to as long as two weeks.
“The work is usually spread out during a more extended period. But, still, if you would compress the time, the least amount I’ve put into a piece of art is around two working days, which I consider express speed. And the most time I’ve put in is probably close to two weeks of work.”
Here’s what Andreas’ process usually includes:
- Idea and concept
- Collecting or creating props
- Finding models and locations
- Collaboration with stylist/make-up artist
- Photographing, retouching, and publishing work
If I had to do all this, I think I’d need 22 weeks, so great job, Andreas!
Finally, I asked Andreas about the gear he normally uses. I know some readers are interested in the gear aspect as well, so this is something I also like to ask. Andreas has a similar opinion to mine, saying that “focus should be on creating art, and gear should assist and fill the gaps to reach a specific goal.”
“It’s easy to get into a mindset where you feel you need new equipment to develop as an artist,” Andreas warns, “especially at the beginning of your career.” However, he adds that equipment is still essential. After all, you can’t create your art without it.
“The critical question is how much means you should spend on gear? There is no good answer for this, only that there are diminishing returns, in terms of quality, when buying equipment.
There is a reality and surviving as an artist and you about being smart with your means; if something costs what you return on a year, I believe there should be a substantial gain for buying it.”
So, speaking of gear, Andreas’ current workhorse is a Nikon D810, most often paired with a tilt-shift 24mm lens. “It’s perfect for capturing more extensive backplates than I need,” Andreas explains, so he has more to “play with” within Photoshop. He also sometimes uses a 70-200mm lens and always shoots on a tripod. There are several reasons for this: stability of course, but also exposure bracketing and focus stacking which he sometimes does. He shoots tethered to his Macbook Pro.
As for the lighting, Andreas uses Broncolor’s flash system Move 1200 in combination with Siros 800L and different sizes of modifiers depending on the situation. “The Move pack gives me the ability to freeze fast motion when I need to, and both the Move and Siros are powered with batteries which provide me with portability,” he explains.
As for the computer, Andreas’ working station is custom configured and modified late 2013 Mac Pro, basically maxed with 64Gb ram and 6Gb internal nvme drives. “I use them as scratch disks to speed up my Photoshop workflow,” Andreas explains. “My Photoshop files are huge and put a high demand on the performance of the workstation.”
Finally, to get accurate colors and adjust colors for fine-art printing, Andreas uses an Eizo CG243 monitor and retouches his images with a Wacom Intous 4 pad and pen.
In Andreas’ work, I recognized many things that I think are wrong with social media culture. But I love it that his idea is not only to point them out just for the sake of pointing out. With his photos, Andreas wants to draw our attention to these problems first. And then, these powerful images should make us think, snap out of it, and take control over social media instead of letting them be in control of us.
I leave you now with some more great photos that Andreas created, along with the short stories behind them. You can see a lot more of his work on his website, and make sure to give him a follow on Instagram and Facebook, too.