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Åke E:son Lindman on the art of photographing interiors

Legendary Swedish photographer Åke E:son Lindman speaks to Effect Magazine for our Pro Q&A series

Åke E:son Lindman has for decades been among the most sought-after interior, architectural and landscape photographers, not just in his native Sweden but throughout the world. His work hangs in museums and is offered at auctions; it’s coveted by art galleries and advertising agencies, and he has published art and photographic books globally.

But what truly matters is that once you’ve seen his work, it’s impossible to unsee it, such is his ability to capture familiar interiors or architecture in entirely unfamiliar ways. Architectural author Olof Hultin speaks of Lindman’s knack for “photographing the space and not the object,” while photography critic Peder Alton notes “his ability to see what can be photographed, what can be used to make an image.”

Mälardalens Högskola, a college in Eskilstuna, Sweden, photographed by Åke E:son Lindman

What is clear is that in his literalist way, and without artifice, Lindman delivers images of places we may have seen before, but in a way that forces us to reconsider them. Here’s what he has to say about his work and techniques:

How would you describe your style?
I am a classic architectural photographer with a background in analogue photography – although now working in the digital world. My style is documentary, so I like to work with existing light and a very straight perspective.

What is the key to capturing the essence of an interior?
I think the key is to show the interior in many different ways – from details to spaciousness.

I like to work with existing light and a very straight perspective.

Åke E:son Lindman

Do you still get excited about your work, or does a project need to be exceptional to get your interest?
I still get excited – and it doesn’t have to be exceptional. I can get excited to capture a small, minimalistic-budget project – or the opposite – as long as it is, for me, good architecture.

You have been quoted as saying your strength lies in “being able to depict a space precisely as it is, often straight-on from a central perspective.” This is evident in your work, but also evident is surprise, grandeur, symmetry, unfamiliar perspectives, intrigue, unexpected colour palettes, drama. Do you see these things too, and are they what you want us to see?
I can see those things too – and it is important to show space/architecture in many ways – but the main line for me is the central perspective using a few lenses. Perhaps 80% of all my work is done with one lens – my favourite 24 mm. To me, it’s very close to the eye’s perspective. Also, I like to be true to natural colours and try not to affect the postproduction in a too-dramatic way.

80% of all my work is done with one lens – my favourite 24 mm. To me, it’s very close to the eye’s perspective.

Åke E:son Lindman

Aside from compositional talent, what are the key technical considerations for capturing interiors and architecture?
You must work with cameras or lenses that have tilt/shift ability, even if you can do a lot in the postproduction. Also, the aperture should be small – to capture the depth of field. This is how I work. When I started to shoot architecture, many years ago, the technical considerations were many and complicated but today the technique is so much easier.

Instagram has become a major tool for interior designers to market themselves. Has Instagram impacted your work – or the field of architectural and interiors photography?
Instagram has not impacted my own work – I think I am too old and old-fashioned – even though I have over 6,000 followers. But I can see that it has and will have an impact on today’s young photographers.

What is your go-to camera?
When I started shooting architecture 40 years ago, I worked with almost the same camera equipment as photographers used in the 1950s – that is a large-format camera, 4” x 5”, with a heavy tripod and the use of sheet film. After that, the technical solutions have changed rapidly. Today I use only one camera, a Sony Alpha A7R IV, with four Canon tilt/shift lenses.

You also photograph gardens and the natural world. Is this an antidote to architecture, or do you view it as a natural architecture?
I try to view it as natural architecture but I find it more difficult. Landscape architecture often needs a foresight of 10 years to be true to the architect’s ideas, and much can happen during that time. Today, young photographers use drones, which also makes it easier to capture landscape but sadly, I am not familiar with this technique.

Which building or project do you wish you could have photographed?
There are many but let´s say anything by Louis Kahn!

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
I would work with bookbinding or books in any way. I love books!

There’s been a disaster and you can only save three works. Which would they be?
It would be all work of Le Corbusier, Carlo Scarpa and John Pawson because they all inspired me in many ways to be the photographer I became.

Are there other photographers that have inspired or influenced your work?
Yes, to start with Eugéne Atget, Walker Evans, Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoller. Then, many Japanese architectural photographers.

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