Photographer Christoffer Relander grew up in the Finnish countryside, near the small town of Ekenäs, and his work typically reflects the natural motifs of his youth: trees, flowering plants, birds, wolves. His Neonland series combines those images with the bright street scenes of Hong Kong.
Neonland represents something of a departure from his usual style, juxtaposing Scandinavian nature scenes with images of Hong Kong streets.
“I had never worked in a big city before,” Relander says. “It was exciting to take something new and combine it with a familiar environment from my childhood.”
The images are surreal collages of pristine woodlands overlaid by garishly lighted urban phantasmagoria, all created in-camera rather than in Photoshop.
First, Relander shot Finnish and Swedish forests at night, using variously colored strobes to light up the trees. Then he spent a week in Hong Kong searching for the perfect locations to complement the background images.
Relander chose Hong Kong for its famously trippy neon signs, which are fast disappearing thanks to new government regulations that call for more energy-efficient LED signs.
“The colors are very beautiful, and the shapes are aesthetically interesting,” Relander says about Hong Kong’s neon signs.
“There’s something mysterious about the Chinese characters, which I can’t read,” Relander says. “To me, it says something about the limitations of human knowledge.”
Although Relander has tried creating multiple exposures digitally, in post-production, he prefers to work in-camera.
“When you do in-camera multiple exposures, you’re creating the work while you’re out photographing,” Relander says.
With multiple-exposure photography, “when the last exposure is taken, you’re basically done,” Relander says. “There’s just some color adjustments and cropping to do in Photoshop.”
Relander says he likes the unplanned visual serendipity that can emerge from the process of multiple-exposure photography.
“With multiple exposures, I don’t think you can ever get total control,” Relander says. “And that’s something I enjoy. Perfect is overrated.”
To document the project, Relander invited filmmaker Johan Ljungqvist to accompany him on the shoot. Ljungqvist’s impressionistic four-minute video about the photo series is a fittingly non-linear complement to Relander’s images.