Photographs that Blend Reality with Fantasy

Simen Johan uses old and new photo techniques to get haunting and beautiful images.

Reality and fantasy often blur in Simen Johan’s art: Using both traditional photographic techniques and digital methods, he merges images of animals—taken in zoos, farms, nature preserves, museum dioramas, even from roadkill—with other visual elements to create one seamless, albeit disorienting, composition. “I strive to create tension and confuse the boundaries between opposing forces, such as the familiar and the otherworldly,” he wrote in an email. 

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The image above is a prime example. Those are three ringneck doves, yet their plumes have been whitened, and their eyes’ hemoglobin hue borrows from another species—probably a red-eyed dove. The bountiful crab apple tree is yet another amalgam. “To me there’s an interesting correlation between the white doves—symbols of peace—and the bloodiness of the crab apples, both in their red-staining substance and their galaxy-like/red-blood-cell-like formation,” wrote Johan. Part of a series called Until the Kingdom Comes, this piece joins other oneiric scenes that explore the concept that one day “the answers to who we are and what we are doing in this world will come to light and validate our existence.” 

It can take Johan years to complete a piece. “I know what I want when I see it, but until I do, I’m like a blind person trying to find my way home,” he wrote. What results is a manifestation of how he experiences the world. “My work echoes my curiosity about life: about our desires, fears, and darkest intuitions, and about consciousness as a whole—perhaps the most familiar and mysterious aspect of our lives.”



Photographer: Simen Johan

What: Ringneck doves and crab apple tree

Camera: Hasselblad 503CW with an 80mm lens

Exposure: 1/125 second at f22; ISO 800

This story originally ran in the November-December 2012 issue as "Fact and Fiction" in the One Picture column.