Michael Lundgren's magical realities

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“The best description of magical realism is finding magic in the rational world,” explains Michael Lundgren, whose latest photobook, Matter, presents the audience with an alternative vision of the world we know – or think we know.
“I’m not concerned with being an environmental photographer; I’m concerned with making images that make you feel something you can’t quite understand,” he continues. “There’s something that happens when you’re presented with what you can’t quite fathom. The agreements that I have in my mind in my world view are halted and they are interpreted. Within that interruption, there’s the possibility to see something that we didn’t know.”
For Lundgren, shooting Matter was an experiment, and even he is still trying to understand the resulting series. His photographs take in vast landscapes in Spain, the United States and Mexico, but also have an isolating effect, rendering outside influences and contexts moot. “I want to put you in a different world,” he says.
“You can’t walk into this place and neither can you leave. You can only turn the page. These aren’t landscapes from real tradition: this is an isolating method. I’m interested in how flat photographs can exist almost as a three dimensional experience.”
To achieve this mystical vision of our world, Lundgren carefully manipulated his photographs – shooting with a flash, and adding reflections and colour intensity in post-production. Shooting in colour was something of a departure for him, as his previous big series – Transfigurations – was shot exclusively in black-and-white.
“The colours are supposed to be symbolic – green is a reemergence of life; red is a reference to poison and to blood, both those things,” he says. “A lot of the colour images, I’ll scan them in and then spend days adjusting them tonally in photoshop, pushing colours down, pushing areas down. The colour is accurate to the range the colour exists in, but it has been moved a little.”

Machine, from Matter © Mike Lundgren
The Algaeic Fox, from Matter © Mike Lundgren
These colour experiments helped shape the project, with Lundgren slowly getting more abstract as time went on. He initially thought he’d focus on a more tangible reality, but, he says, “it became more cosmic and even more transformative.”
He credits a shot of a fox with setting him on this course – the oldest image in the series, the fox had turned a mesmerising green having fallen into a tank of water in a farmer’s field. The unexpected colour makes the fox unrecognisable – you can see the animal, but can’t quite identify it.
“The fox image came about and it was a transformative image for me, and it is a transformative image in itself. That fox image was one of the first times I’d initially manipulated the content in front of the camera rather than simply through the process of multiple exposure or long exposure. So it was a real departure and also seemed to be connected.
“I’ve always been fascinated with death and in the way death is a transformative process and the camera is also a transformative process through this parallel.”
Whilst these are photographs of landscapes, the adjustments make a departure from more traditional landscape photography and Lundgren, who studied in that school, doesn’t see himself in those terms either. “It’s not about this landscape or a particular place; it’s about a psychic state,” he says.
“The people who enjoy my work are those who want to read an image beyond its literal description. What do photographs mean beyond their intentions? How can you build a world where the original intention has nothing to do with that final product?”
Matter is published by Radius Books, RRP $55
Cinder, from Matter © Mike Lundgren
Deer, from Matter © Mike Lundgren
Nova, from Matter © Mike Lundgren