Radically Surreal: A Strange World of Mind-Bending Illusions

Reality is malleable and nothing is quite as it seems in the surreal world of photographer Erik Johansson, who takes hundreds of photos of a single subject, merges them together and digitally manipulates them to produce optical illusions and the strangest of scenes. Often, these subjects are creating the illusions themselves, changing their environment in unexpected ways.

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A single woman spreads a snowy landscape by way of a giant white quilt, while a man climbs a ladder to erect pleasantly sunny surroundings like wallpaper to replace his dreary reality. Roads cut with giant scissors curl like fabric. Houses and streets are seen from multiple perspectives at once, M.C. Escher-style.

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The Swedish-born, self-taught photographer starts with a sketch and begins the planning process, which can take months or even years for each shoot. “This is the most important step as it defines the look and feel of the photo, it’s my raw material,” says Johansson. “This step also includes problem solving, how to make the reflections, materials etc. realistic.”

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Curious about the whole process? Johansson offers a layer-by-layer breakdown of his image “Let’s Leave” in the video above. Check out some of the artist’s earlier work, too.