“Weddings…they are the plague I try to keep away from! That would have to be one really freaky wedding for me to shoot them.”
Beautiful, sexy, aggressive, dark, these are all easy words that can be used to describe Mikael Karlbom’s photography with Staring Abyss. They’re so easy we’ve found some harder ones instead.
Resplendent, voluptuous, pugnacious, atramentous.
Which actually sounds a little bit better. So how about that? Whichever words you prefer they’re all perfect expressions of Mikael’s photos and the subjects within them. It must be something about Finland that encourages beauty and darkness at the same time. Finlandia in the water?
Now for the photographs.
Staring Abyss Photography captures that kinky innuendo of life and death, heaven and hell, good and bad, and the angel and the devil.
I’ve written before about artists that find that place between two different worlds – our own and something else altogether, whatever that may be. Staring Abyss have that same quality as well.
It’s eerie, and a little freaky. But it’s a great talent to have.
The models that Mikael uses appear like wicked, tempting angels within a barren, hypnotic netherworld. Devils would be the wrong word to describe them, but they have that little bit of mischief.
Something I think Mikael is really good at is capturing the aggression of his subjects. There is a raw anger to their faces – not deliberate – just a certain pure thunder and fury within. There is an absolute anger to them, but not an anger to create fear or lust, an anger to create terror and adulation. We are all serfs in their aura.
If that doesn’t sound too far-fetched.
Valentine From Hell, for example, is a model that can look fantastic whether she’s long haired or bald. She’s a great muse for Mikael and their individual work complements each other greatly. (Note: clearly she’s the boss!). The same goes for Tia X, Varpu, Ronja, and of course, Sadie Scissors.
Finally, and on a personal note. Mikael, I think you should do more S&M photography. You have the skill of capturing the wicked, devious, and loving romance that can take place between two people involved in sadomasochism. This sounds hugely pretentious, and it is, but I think you’re capable of catching that spark of chemistry between two people. Put a couple or two people close together and see what happens. I bet you can do it.
MG caught up with Mikael just before he headed off on tour to South Africa with his band Finntroll.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mikael Karlbom.
How long have you been taking pictures and working as a photographer?
I have always taken pictures more or less as a hobby, but as a professional, I’d say for something like 6 – 7 years now. The transition from video editor/director was a bit hazy so it’s hard to tell!
What kind of concepts do you like to shoot?
Pretty much everything if there is a twist in it. It depends so much about the model. Sometimes even basic portraits can be very interesting to shoot if there’s something in the model. Eyes, mouth or facial expression, you know it when you see it. But mostly I like more dark, gloomy kind of things. There’s something very interesting for example in abandoned places and post apocalyptic scenes, if that can be implemented on the photo shoot, then even more awesome. And sometimes I want to shoot more beautiful fragile kind of pictures. I try to keep my mind open and not tie myself up on one type of photography only. But weddings, kids and such, no way….they are the plague I try to keep away from. That would have to be one really freaky wedding for me to shoot them 😀
What comes first – the model, the location, or the concept?
Model and concept are both equally important I think. With location you can always compromise. Do some extra or take something out with Photoshop and such, even though at the end of the day, you can’t get bad location to look good, no matter what skills you have. So I always try to find interesting places to shoot. Maybe that’s why I shoot so rarely!
What excites you the most about art and photography? And what challenges you the most?
Breaking boundaries and norms. To create something out of nothing. Idea of people watching your work, whether it’s painting, music, photography or drawing and getting some feelings out of it. It’s thrilling. In a way, you got inside their head. You broke their normal day-to-day routine and got them thinking something. At least that’s how I feel when I see or hear a piece of art which I find interesting. It’s brain food! And the biggest challenge is to get that idea out of your own head to the audience in a way you want. As all creative people know, to stop working on a project is damn difficult. You always come up with something you might want to add there. Maybe little bit of more this or more that. Maybe I do this that way and so on…to let it go, is the biggest challenge!
I’d say your work is beautiful and aggressive at the same time. Is that something you plan or work on, or is that something that comes naturally?
Oh, first time I hear that! But now that you mentioned it might be so :D. Thank you! No, I never plan too much ahead. I want to have a concept, some kind of mock up in my head and then have a model, surroundings and current feeling to lead the photo shoot somehow. I hope this way I can capture maybe a little bit of that atmosphere what we had during the shoot. And let the model bring her/his effort out as well. It’s a co-op. Always.
What camera lenses and equipment do you use and what is your favourite combination?
I got Canon 5D mark II and only 3 crappy lenses. My favourite is 50mm for sure. And 85mm comes the second. Of course if I’m shooting places or nature, I usually use wide angle lenses. When I get rich someday, I’ll buy new lenses. Now I have to go with the ones I got! But I’ve never felt you need to have top of the art equipment to make great pictures. It’s more about what’s happening in there, more about using light and more about composition that makes pictures interesting and great than very good lenses or camera. Sometimes it helps though 😀
What are you working on at the moment or looking to do in the future?
We have this project coming up with Valentine From Hell and Tia X about neutral sexes. And I am planning a freaky 19th century horror shoot as well. But both of these are only ideas at them moment. And as I live double life and play also in a band, we’ll be going out of country for few shows in couple of days, so that will postpone these shoots at least with week or two. And I have a lot of pictures on my hard drive at the moment which I would need to edit! Models are getting impatient! 😀
What other creative outlets do you enjoy?
Music, well pretty obvious with that double life! Drawing and actually writing as well. So there’s my trinity…in addition to photography!
Please feel free to add anything else here:
I’d like to challenge everybody to start working on whatever project you have dreamed of working on. That project you have let go, because you think you can’t do it. Just do it. The outcome might surprise yourself!
If you’ve loved these pictures, then dance along like a fiend to Staring Abyss Photography.
All images by Mikael Karlbom (Staring Abyss Photography).
1-10 & 17 Valentine From Hell
11 Tia X
13 – 15 Varpu