Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Makes Reality Possible for Sub-Zero
When Jonas Fredwall Karlsson got the call to shoot Sub-Zero’s latest campaign, he knew that there was going to be a challenge right off the bat. The idea was to show families in the building stages of their homes who have already chosen Sub-Zero appliances from the very beginning. Like any shoot, they had limitations. “Of course, these days, time is limited and we had to be as smart as possible,” Jonas explains. He knew that they probably weren’t going to find the perfect construction locations that would also stop work for weeks just to get a shoot in, so Jonas decided to think outside the box. Or, outside the construction zone, as it were.
Instead of trying to find the perfect construction site they decided to build it. “We created a platform, like a concert stage, and then we built the beams and the whole construction on top of that,” he says. By creating an actual construction zone they were able to place the location wherever they wanted, positioning everything perfectly for light and time, maximizing efficiency and ensuring a product that was malleable to their needs. “We could have any background we wanted, we could put it in a location where there’s good morning light and then move to a location where it’s good evening light because the only thing we will see will be the construction site.” So that’s what they did. They took their whole construction zone with them in order to create the perfect look. Using this one major fix, everything else was able to happen naturally. And that's the whole point.
Jonas is proud, and rightly so, that all of the backgrounds in this campaign are totally natural to the locations where they shot. The Empire State Building can really be seen through that apartment's window, the family of ducks are really swimming by on the pond. Even the small dog visiting the young couple in the mountains was a serendipitous moment: the pup was a crewmember’s pet that wandered on set. “To me, even when you do advertising, the more real you can be the better,” Jonas explains. Even when you have the unlimited options of digital manipulation, it’s still best to keep everything as true to life as possible. “You can do so much these days. You can put anything together. But the trick is to make things look real,” he says. The audience can always tell when something is real, even if it’s a subconscious recognition, and Jonas wants to take advantage of that in his work. “If you’re lucky you’re able to capture that and it adds to the realism of the picture. It sells the story, which is nice for everybody.”
The Beauty Is in the Details for Jonas Fredwall Karlsson and Vanity Fair
When Raul Gonzalez retired from his soccer career after more than twenty years of professional play it didn’t come as a shock to his fans. But it did mean the world that had embraced his talent so fully was going to have to recalibrate how they thought about this soccer star. To help with the change, Vanity Fair Spain put together a cover story to profile the star and they asked Jonas Fredwall Karlsson to help them reintroduce Raul to his fans for the first time. “To put him in sweats and have him be out in the soccer field would make no sense,” Jonas explains. It was all about context. So Jonas worked not only with Raul but also his wife, Mamen Sanz, a former model, to show off what a post-play life would look like for Raul. “They were super easy going and super friendly,” says Jonas. “They were open to try different things.” And it was different. Raul had never sat for a session like this before, so everyone was going to explore together.
Jonas' aesthetic dictates that every corner of his compositions are supremely beautiful, but he wants them to be rooted in accessible reality. To do that he manages every detail within the frame, whether it's an upturned newspaper on the floor or an unmade bed with rumpled sheets. For Jonas, those details clinch the difference between fashion editorial and understanding a real person. "It's really important to try to make these things look real and to tell a story," Jonas explains. "I asked them to bring their own things, their own iPads. If you look in the background there's even their own pictures of their kids. Even if those are out of focus, just knowing they’re there adds to the pictures. Those little details, those little imperfections add to the realism." If we feel like we're getting a real look at Raul's life, we can connect to him more. Too much polish builds a distance between the audience and the subject. Jonas is working to bridge that gap.
These details extend through all of his photography. Whether it’s a shoot like this that profiles a famous face, or for a commercial campaign, he’s always telling a story to the audience that is broader than what you catch from a quick glance. He offers an invitation to look deeper and experience more than what’s available at first look. And Jonas takes it very seriously. “I like to think those stories out,” Jonas says. “Why does it look like this? Why is this here? Is this real? If there is a telephone would it be on the hook or off the hook? And what would that mean? If that magazine is on the floor it has to be on the floor the right way.” He strikes a balance that gives us beauty and reality, because ultimately when you catch something that’s real it has its own inherent beauty. That human connection will always expose something new that we may not expect, something that may surprise us. Even if we’ve been watching Jonas’ subject play for more than twenty years. There’s always something new to learn and Jonas is showing it to us.
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Encounters the Real Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, is under a lot of pressure for a litany of reasons. Any city with 8.4 million residents is going to have a host of issues that require daily attention, but in addition to making sure the sun still rises on a functioning city, all eyes on him for another reason: he’s one of the biggest tests of contemporary liberal leadership. Before de Blasio’s campaign in 2012, true leftist liberalism hadn’t operated on a stage as big as New York City governance and as the stage is set for bigger tests like with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the test is ever more important. Recently, de Blasio’s critics are getting louder and louder inspiring Vanity Fair to connect up with the troubled mayor and understand what’s going on inside his head and inside his administration. Jonas Fredwall Karlsson was on hand to photograph portraits to accompany the story, but also tell a story in his own right. “You always want to get as close to the real person as possible,” Jonas says, so he and senior Vanity Fair photo producer Ron Beinner traveled to Gracie Mansion, the official home of the New York City Mayor, to get an idea of what his home life is like.
A few weeks before the shoot, Jonas actually stopped by the mansion by coincidence while riding his bike and was struck by how easy the home is to access. It’s truly a part of a New Yorker’s environment. “Right up to the doors and the fence is a public park, which kind of surprised me,” Jonas says. “That’s actually how it is. It’s next to the water, there is a bike path on the east side of it but other than that there’s this public park. It’s very nice.” This bode well for Jonas since his goal was to get an honest, open portrait of the mayor that would only happen if de Blasio were willing to open up to him. As a public figure, especially one facing as much criticism as de Blasio, it’s easy to clam up. But Jonas found a willing collaborator in the mayor, ensuring a successful shoot. “He was more relaxed than I would have expected,” says Jonas. “And he was more cooperative and easy access than I did expect.”
When it came time to create a setting for the shoot, Jonas decided on a stretch of the Gracie Mansion porch that is particularly meaningful to de Blasio and his whole family. They sat around a table in chairs that the mayor uses as often as possible, both in his professional and private lives. “He tries to have a lot of meetings on that porch where the photo was,” Jonas explains. “The idea behind that was to create something like they do when they are having a private sit down and sharing a glass of iced tea… That’s their furniture, that’s their stuff, their softball, everything that’s there is theirs.” With all eyes on de Blasio he isn’t shying away, even from the critics. That’s not to say there isn’t work to do, but as Jonas’ images prove: he's present and listening.
Hollywood and Washington Converge with Jonas Fredwall Karlsson
Every year in the spring, Washington and Hollywood converge on the White House Correspondents Dinner. This is when the most powerful people in the country break bread with the most popular, and it's an exciting time for all. It is hosted by a comedian who treats the event like a roast, this year SNL’s Cecily Strong, who checks Washington's power to their faces, and the President joins ranks cracking jokes at everyone's expense. The White House Correspondents Dinner has earned a colloquial nickname, "The Nerd Prom," because it's one of the only times Washington, and the reporters who cover D.C., dress up in such a public way for no other reason than to have fun (and give out a few, lesser reported scholarships). But what's a prom without prom pictures? This year Vanity Fair set up a tent to photograph the attendees of the Nerd Prom and conscripted Jonas Fredwall Karlsson to shoot it.
This particular gig is tricky in how quickly one has to move. Jonas has shot projects like this before, most frequently at the MTV Video Music Awards, but Vanity Fair offered him something a little more formal. They were shooting while the party was raging in the next room and Jonas had people, like Vanity Fair Photo Producer Ron Beinner, help pull out the attendees to get their photos taken. “We had great help getting people from the party and come into the studio,” says Jonas. “So we had a little more time. Two minutes instead of five seconds,” he says with a laugh. The crucial element was time since Jonas had to photograph dozens of attendees in an incredible amount of time. “I had to come up with a way of shooting between 30 and 60 people within 3 hours and we had a very limited amount of space.”
In order to maximize their use of space, Jonas and Vanity Fair shot in a tent outside the event, and employed a set created by Jesse Nemeth. ”I wanted something dynamic and agile that could be fundamentally changed in the very short periods of time between portraits in order to photograph as many people as possible." Using a series of tonal set pieces and a few bold features, each image offers a unique take on very limited space because of the changeable set.
The party doesn’t get into full swing until after all the speeches and the dinner, so it was late into the night before Jonas was even able to start working. “It was really, really intense,” says Jonas. “We started to shoot around midnight, and the last images were done around 3:30a.m. Then we continued working until they turned off the electricity.” Despite all the craziness, speed, and energy, at the end of the day Jonas stayed true to the heart of project: capturing beautiful portraits of famous faces. “The most important thing in portraiture is to connect with the person,” says Jonas. “You go on instinct.”
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Composes Risk for Vanity Fair
Perched high above the ground in Yosemite Valley, Jonas Fredwall Karlsson hugged the granite rocks that form the El Capitan formation. Free climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson just recently completed the first climb of the 3000ft Dawn Wall, a sheer route on one of the most difficult climbs on earth. Jonas iis there with a team, including producer Ron Beinner, for Vanity Fair for their Spotlight on these two climbers who risk it all to get a little closer to the sky. Jonas climbed up, standing on the those stone of Yosemite but it was a little different from the rock face the two climbers had scaled where ledges of two inches are considered rest stops. Still, with wind whipping and a vast expanse of sky behind the climbers, it was the bare peak of a mountain.
The image of Caldwell and Jorgeson are part of a larger series by Vanity Fair of Rock Climbers and Adventurers shot by Jonas. This series of 23 images includes bungee jumpers, hot air balloonists, and dogsled drivers. Jonas has noticed a through line shooting people at this level of adventuring. “They’re all obsessed in a way,” he says. “And I think you have to be that at this level of anything you do.” Obsession is a condition that begs risk and offers reward. For those willing to focus and take the steps, only the world is in front of them. Or maybe even more. The next great adventure is a continuing one with unlimited potential: the adventure into space.
Virgin's Galactic program saw the fatal failure of their most recent test flight forcing many to question the intelligence and responsibility of private space travel. Fans are quick to remind skeptics that because of NASA's quickly expiring funding, private space travel may be humanity's best hope to get closer to the stars, and democratizing space travel may be the boon it needs to revive public interest. In their highlight of the ongoing progress of Virgin Galactica, Vanity Fair used a previously unseen image that Jonas had taken of CEO Sir Richard Branson in 2010. Jonas met him on the runway where he took responsibility for Virgin Galactic's future using his own image (and promises to board the first commercial flight with his children). While Branson is wearing a space suit, the whole conceit around Virgin Galactic is an accessible trip into space; all passengers will wear their own clothes. No space suit required. As William Langewische explains in Vanity Fair’s piece, there's still some distance to travel before Virgin Galactic is ready to carry passengers. But Branson is as eager as ever to offer his customers a piece of the sky.
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Breaks Spain's Biggest Scandal
In a fourteen-page exclusive with Vanity Fair España, Diego Torres tells the whole story of his place in the Spanish Nóos Institute scandal that is rocking the European country. Facing more than 16 years in prison for embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, and other charges for mishandling €6m in public funds, Torres isn’t willing to take it lying down. The results of the six hour interview are more than simple confession; Diego is letting it all hang out, implicating everyone involved, including the royal family. From payoffs, to cover ups, to major miscarriages of justice, Torres refuses to be the patsy in a scandal that is much bigger than his own part. So he took his story to Vanity Fair and it is the whole story.
Breathing life into Torres’ account, populating all 14 pages, are portraits taken by photographer Jonas Fredwall Karlsson. Like any high stakes tell all, there was hesitance and a couple false starts. Jonas travelled to Barcelona twice before they were able to execute the shoot. In the time leading up to the project, Jonas and Vanity Fair planned out the shots as well as they could, expecting some understandable constraints. “This is a business guy. And there were ideas that I had in advance that the magazine wasn’t sure he’d be willing to do. Like taking off his jacket, unbuttoning his sleeves,” says Jonas. He even had the idea of shooting Torres reclining in the bathtub, but their expectation was: “He would never go down in the bathtub, absolutely not!” It turned out, all Jonas had to do was ask.
In their preshoot meeting, Torres was understandably nervous. “This was a big deal for him,” explains Jonas. But when the time came to shoot, Torres arrived as a collaborator. “With digital you can take a picture and show the subject and clear it with them,” says Jonas. “Most of the time you can say, ‘Can we try to do a picture of you in the bathtub?’ And then they agree to do that and they never ask to see the picture.” That's precisely what Jonas offered Torres, but it turned out it wasn't necessary. Torres nestled into the tub and they got the shot. No stress, no muss.
After all was said and done, Jonas was clear to say that this is his kind of project. “It’s the kind of story I really enjoy doing, because it’s a real story with a real interest and it’s something that’s important,” says Jonas. “It’s great to do it for a magazine like Vanity Fair because they let me have the luxury of spending time.” The long time relationship Jonas has with Vanity Fair means there’s mutual trust, a crucial element for such an impactful story.
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Meets The Master Marine
A photographer’s job is to highlight their subject. To eke out the personality of the person they’re shooting and put it front and center. Some subjects are huge characters, soaking up the limelight and putting it all on display. Others are quieter and have a more steely energy and need to be coaxed to reveal a little more of themselves. Jonas Fredwall Karlsson approaches everyone equally. They’re all people. “You try to connect in some kind of way and find their language so you can equal yourself,” he explains. “I listen to their story and try to make them as comfortable as possible, whoever they are, whatever they’re doing, and wherever they are.” It’s about establishing a personal connection and letting that be the vehicle to capture an authentic energy in the photograph.
For his latest shoot with Vanity Fair, Jonas caught up with Nick Sloane from Sloane Marine, who has been tasked with salvaging the Costa Concordia. The Costa Concordia broke into an international news item when it ran aground off the coast of Isola del Giglio in 2012. The massive ship has been there ever since, threatening to wreak havoc on the surrounding environment and act as a beacon for the detractors of the cruise industry. Jonas was given a quick rundown of what’s been happening on Nick’s floating dock that acts as a base of operations for the salvage operation. Nick is a very busy man, and his crew has been working 24 hours a day without pause to get the Cost Concordia afloat, but the crew did take just enough time out to give Vanity Fair an idea of how this two year wrong is being righted. “They have four or five divers down there all the time, they have guys watching monitors seeing what they’re seeing, keeping track of their hearts and breathing, and oxygen and all that from above,” Jonas explains. “It’s really high tech. It’s a very serious and very dangerous thing they’re doing. And nobody had done this before, at this scale. This is the biggest ever.” The gravity of the situation is not lost on Nick.
The 52 year old South African travels around the world working on impossible projects like this. He’s become one of the most trusted names in the marine world, correcting errors – both avoidable and unavoidable – around the globe, entering into All Or Nothing agreements. Either he succeeds, or he doesn’t get paid. As Jonas tells it, when the Costa Concordia assignment came up, the world was against him. Jonas remarked, “A lot of people said, ‘It will not be possible, it will crack, it will fall apart.’ And Nick’s take on that was ‘I think it will work.’” It ultimately did, and what Jonas captured for us is this hard and focused man on the deck of his base of operations, next to an unbelievable achievement in marine engineering.
(Jonas was also on hand when the Costa Concordia first sank, we've included a photo from that original visit.)
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Helps Vanity Fair Tackle Climate Change
The celebrity group photo has become a hallmark for Vanity Fair, but when Jonas Fredwall Karlsson got this group photo together, it was something a little different. With James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, David Gelber, Joel Bach, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, they were here to talk about more than just the next Hollywood blockbuster. They were here to talk about the future of our planet.
All five of these men are the executive producers of the new Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously.” The series digs elbow deep into the human stories surrounding climate change. This isn’t episodes on melting icebergs and polar bears, but rather the devastation from superstorms, the depletion of entire ecosystems, the country of Yemen running out of water entirely. Frequently, when it comes to these high-powered group photos, they’re shot separately and put together during post. But Jonas got to shoot everyone together, all in the room at the same time. [Jonas' quote on them all being together] Placement is usually dictated by status and ego. But everyone was focused on the job at hand, to bring attention to their project.] As James Cameron says, “This is the biggest story of our time, and this is the time to tell it.”
To tell it, Cameron, Weintraub, and Co. put together a list of correspondents of some of the most recognizable faces in the world, including Harrison Ford, Chris Hayes, and Lesley Stahl. They went out and traveled the world, crystallizing the innumerable global levels that this is affecting. From trekking across polar ice caps, to venturing into Indonesian tropical forests
The issue is social, political, and economic. There are debates to be had, but very little of it is on the science. As President Barack Obama says in the series, “We can argue about how [to handle it], but let’s not argue about what’s going on. The science is compelling.” Jonas agrees, having spent time in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he's particularly sensitive to the devastation that is being faced by those affected by Climate Change. “It’s enormously important. It’s changing the whole world,” says Jonas. He says he is a positive person, so we can turn it around. “We have to,” he implores.
Despite the serious subject matter, the shoot wasn't all doom and gloom. Everyone was able to find a smile for at least one picture.
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Captures The Yellow Dogs' Story for Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair asked Jonas Fredwall Karlsson to photograph Obash Karampour and Koory Mirzaei – the surviving members of the Iranian indie-rock quartet The Yellow Dogs – and their friends for an article called "To Live and Die in America," which details a tragedy that unfolded in Brooklyn last November.
"It's a devastating story; it touched me on many different levels," said Fredwall Karlsson, explaining the link between The Yellow Dogs, Hypernova, and The Free Keys – refugees from Tehran's underground rock scene – and Ali Akbar Rafie, the troubled band member who killed four of them before turning the gun on himself. "Producer Ron Beinner and I met Obash and Koory only a few months after it all happened, and at that point, maybe they didn't fully grasp that their friends were gone."
Still, "the approach was as it almost always is," the photographer remarked, "you learn as much as you can about the subjects by visiting their homes or offices and their neighborhoods, going wherever they go, and taking in whatever they do that is connected to the narrative." He spent a day scouting with The Yellow Dogs' manager, even stopping by the Maujer Street building where the incident occurred, before deciding to capture Obash and Koory on their East Williamsburg rooftop: "You can see Manhattan and the symbolic Empire State Building in the background and from a distance, which speaks to the two of them coming here to chase its dreams." Fredwall Karlsson also put a lot of thought into how to group the subjects. "I did a separate picture of Icy and Sot, these graffiti artists, and Pooya of The Free Keys, who wrestled down the killer."
"In a way, it was an easy and straightforward job because we were prepared, but in talking with them – imagine experiencing anything like that, especially with your friends," the photographer added.
Yves BÃ©har by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson for Vanity Fair
"I've worked with Vanity Fair for sixteen years with producer Ron Beinner and before a shoot we try to learn as much as possible about the subject – what elements surround this person that would tell a story through an image?" he explained. With Béhar, a surfer and the architect behind the Local Bike, it meant a day at Baker Beach.
"I thought the location would work in the afternoon when the sun is in a certain angle, but the weather turned and it was completely gray – the location practically disappeared!" Fredwall Karlsson recalled. "We were packing up to leave as the weather changed again and I realized we could make a picture with the low clouds instead. I think it was even better than being able to see the whole Golden Gate Bridge in the background, which might have been a bit too much like a postcard."
For the complementary portrait of Béhar, they went to his Fuseproject studio. "It was incredible to see his space with all of the works in progress and protoypes, and to meet his team," Fredwall Karlsson noted.
Béhar wanted to be a part of the entire process, and found a fan of sorts in Fredwall Karlsson. "His designs are fascinating – I, too, think every day objects should be aesthetically pleasing and functional," he said. "And Yves is conscious about helping third-world children with his One Laptop per Child computer. He's an interesting guy."
Greetings From Jonas Fredwall Karlsson at Sun Valley
Vanity Fair's "visual mastermind" Jonas Fredwall Karlsson photographed a number of participants in Allen & Co.'s Sun Valley conference for the mag's November issue. "To sum it up: We went to the location and thought, 'We might have three people to shoot or we might have 30,' and I think we made 36 different shoots in two and a half days," remarked Fredwall Karlsson.
The portable studio was close to but not on the Idaho premises – "of course with permission from Allen & Co." – and subjects included Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Bob Iger of the Walt Disney Company, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, designer Diane Von Furstenberg, Google's Eric Schmidt, and Brian Chesky of Airbnb. "We had a great team from Vanity Fair to help: main producer Ron Beinner, plus Andrea Cuttler and Matt Ullian, and also editor Betsy Kenny Lack to help keep track of the schedule ... 'If Melinda Gates comes in at 11:30, then we can do Harvey Weinstein at 11:45.' It was somewhat like a factory or a doctor's office." Fredwall Karlsson took all of the portraits against a white backdrop. "It's interesting because it becomes only them and nothing else, yet everybody seems kind of the same in a way ... they have different mindsets, naturally; however it wasn't anyone's home turf. It wasn't mine, it wasn't theirs, so everyone was relaxed."
Asked about the challenge of capturing three dozen personalities back-to-back-to-back, Fredwall Karlsson drew a comparison to his first photo gig: "When I was seventeen or eighteen, I started taking photographs for newspapers. I had to be quick for the shoots because I was documenting what you see in the news – politicians, accidents – and I did four to five shoots per day ... it was good preparation for working under circumstances like [those of the Sun Valley portfolio]."
"It's entirely different to have a couple of hours, as opposed to five minutes," he added. "This was so fast and that brought out a specific energy. I hope it's visible in the pictures."
Vanity Fair's 'Visual Mastermind' Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Joins B&A
Jonas Fredwall Karlsson's contribution of imagery over the past decade and a half has earned him a spot in "100 Years of Vanity Fair," which celebrates the pub's centennial. "No other photographer has covered as much ground for Vanity Fair as Jonas Fredwall Karlsson, one of the magazine’s go-to visual masterminds," writes VF's Justin Bishop. "For the last 13 years, together with photography producer Ron Beinner, he has captured faces of tragedy and glory, misfortune and fame, from Timbuktu (literally) to Ground Zero – all in his signature style."
VanityFair.com currently features a gallery of Fredwall Karlsson's images. Among them: then-senator Barack Obama in his Capitol Hill office; Rev. Run and D.M.C. driving a 1967 Amphicar; Instagram founder Kevin Systrom; Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden; Robert Redford on the terrace of his Sundance home; skateboarder Tony Hawk hanging out at the Encinitas YMCA in 2001; and Gabby Douglas following her wins at 2012 Summer Olympics.
A rolleiflex that belonged to Fredwall Karlsson's father sparked his interest in photography at age 8; he later studied the art at Sweden's University of Gothenburg and became the youngest-ever winner of the Swedish Press's Photographer of the Year award after his graduation. Fredwall Karlsson went on to work with Vogue, GQ, Apple, Rolex, and Lexus – and many others – but his most prolific relationship is with Vanity Fair.