The Exquisite Illusionist: The Impossible Photographs of Erik Johansson


posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 1:41 PM EST

Erik Johansson is a Swedish photographer and master image retoucher who lives and works in Berlin. A few years ago, he began to create a portfolio of personal photography to demonstrate his Photoshop skills. This collection of “impossible images” both tricks the eye and fools the mind because of Johansson’s attention to detail.

Starting out as a professional photographer and then delving into Photoshop manipulations, Johansson has now become an illusionist in the truest sense of the word, for he is out to deceive us. As he says of his work, “For me photography is just a way to collect material to realize the ideas in my mind.”

These ideas, he expresses as magical images that challenge the viewer’s understanding of the world. Johansson notes the importance of realism in an illusion.

“The essence in my work is: I always try to make things as realistic as possible, like it could have been captured,” he says.

Whenever we encounter illusions, whether they be photographic, cinematic or theatrical we are torn between what the eye is seeing what our brain tells us can’t be. To resolve this conflict, our first instinct is to look for flaws, for some out of place detail or fuzzy pixel patch that we can latch onto and say, “Aha, it is not real!”

This cannot be done with Johansson’s work that seamlessly integrates real images together to make a coherent whole. We know that a road cannot be turning into a cape and yet there it is. The hands broken like pottery shards are incredible and although we know we are seeing a manipulation, it is hard to shake the sense of seeing a moment of captured reality.

“I get inspired by things around me in my daily life and all kinds of things I see," Johansson explains. "Every new project is a new challenge and my goal is to realize them as realistic as possible.”

Johansson creates these photographs with basic tools. He uses a Canon EOS 5D mark II and Canon L-series lenses; Elinchrom RX-flashes; Eizo displays; Adobe Photoshop CS5, and what he describes as a “Homebuilt-PC.”

In June of 2011, Johansson was one of seven young artists invited to create arts as part of its Generation 7 project. Johansson’s work was to create a real world life-sized illusion at Sergels torg in the heart of Stockholm, Sweden. At the event, he urged visitors to take photographs of a friend interacting with it in a funny way and to send him the image.

You can see more of Erik’s work at :

Erik also spoke at a recent TED forum in London and you can that here.