An artist in pursuit of

We talk to August Östberg, Swedish photographic artist and art director based in New York City, about creating unique things, balancing the commercial and creative sides of art and Instagram as the new art gallery.

2020-01-15 | byKatie McKnoulty

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Photography : @augustotsberg
Photography : @augustotsberg

August Östberg wants to show you something you’ve never seen before. In his words, he’s “trying to create things that don’t exist”. This is no mean feat when his work is exhibited primarily on Instagram, a platform exhibiting some 50 billion images plus, by roughly one billion creators and counting, where his photographic art competes “against someone’s brunch pictures and people’s memes”, as he points out. Through his surreal images though, he seems to be pulling this off. Part photograph, part digital art, he takes an everyday scene you’ve definitely seen before—a sunset, a suburban street, a split-second moment on public transport, a carpark—and makes it ethereal, presenting a hyper-saturated parallel universe you vaguely seem to recognise. August notes, “I like when you can do something like that because it feels familiar but new.”

“I just want to make sure I take pictures of something that’s unconventionally pretty.”

He confesses to me early in our interview that he’s a “bad photographer”, telling me, “I’m bad at photography, I don’t understand many technicalities for the camera, but I am so skilled at Photoshop so I can kind of salvage it”. Whilst I’m not sure I agree with this self-assessment of his photographic talents, this combination of skills does see August craft his supercharged version of reality, where he takes a normal photograph and through digital manipulation and colour editing in Photoshop, creates a completely unique scene. August explains, “I just want to make sure I take pictures of something that’s unconventionally pretty.”

Photography : @augustotsberg
Photography : @augustotsberg

“My thing I do it’s a little bit more in the ‘basic bitch’ category of art."

As someone who creates art both commercially, through his work as an art director at digital agency AKQA in New York, and in a purely artistic expression sense, through his photographic work on Instagram, I’m eager to know what the motivation is behind August’s photography, a pursuit he admits is “a bit of an obsession”. He tells me, “having a day job allows me to, well, with my photography I don’t need to rely on that paying the bills at the end of the month…when it comes to my own solo projects, I can essentially do what I find interesting rather than be dependent on money.” He rejects the idea that artists need to struggle for their art, pointing out “the mentality that money is bad for art is kind of immature because if you have a comfortable life then it could help you in many ways”. He admits, “My thing I do it’s a little bit more in the ‘basic bitch’ category of art. I’m not very poetic or anything like that. I probably did that when I studied [art] in high school, like trying to be deep and dark. But, at some point, I just wanted to do things that made me happy. I want to make life as simple as possible.”

In some ways, the channel through which August disseminates his work has made life simpler for artists everywhere. When we compare the Instagram gallery to real-life art galleries, August says, “A lot of people think social media is bad for art but I think it’s absolutely amazing…It’s like the voice and what is determined as ‘interesting art’ is less one really important person having an opinion. It’s decided by every person, everyone makes the same amount of noise.”

August jokes that his pursuit of creating art simply for the sake of putting something unique and beautiful out into the world is just his “creative ego kicking in”. I have to disagree with him again. August Östberg is showing you something you’ve never seen before, something that may cause you to walk around and see the magic in the mundane, something that may make you want to consider and even express your own unique view of reality, just for the sake of it.

Visit August Ostberg’s Instagram