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Artist Profile: Tommy Lundberg

by Abigail Beck on January 7, 2017

in Artist Profiles, Featured, Winter 2017

Tommy’s World
by Abigail Beck

“Photography can elevate the quality of life.”  –Tommy Lundberg

A cooling breeze floated down the alley in West Hollywood. The sun was beginning to set, forcing the oppressive Southern California heat into reluctant submission, but the red neon signs and black-and-white striped awning of Alfred Coffee {In The Alley} didn’t cool in their welcome. It was a perfect evening for sitting outside, sipping an iced coffee, and chatting about art.

I would be meeting Tommy Lundberg, a 26-year-old graphic designer whose photographic flair recently caught the eye of RedFence (and about 9,000 other people) through his feed on Instagram.

Tommy picked out this spot, an artsy coffee shop that has been featured in a number of his photographs. Its bold colors and geometric designs fit perfectly the aesthetic of his photography, which tends to focus on colors, clean lines, and unusual perspectives.

“You can figure out a lot about somebody’s personality through what they’re drawn to and what they photograph,” he told me.

I had glimpsed the photographer through his work; now I entered his world.

Though he works in photography, Tommy’s world does not really quite exist in the ‘real’ world — at least not all in one place. He finds little pieces of it here and there, often (but not always) in and around Los Angeles.

“L.A. is not a visually stunning city … you don’t see it all with one look. There’s a lot of ugliness, but there’s a lot of pockets of, just like, ‘Wow, that is cool,’” he said. “I just love that about L.A. You can go into any different neighborhood, and it feels like you’re in a totally different place, different people.”

On his Instagram, Tommy captures that diversity and strange beauty through the prism of his own perspective. A rainbow of spilled oil in the Whole Foods parking lot. A sunset behind the downtown L.A. skyline. Graffiti on the 6th Street Bridge. Each shot taken and edited with an eye for symmetry, color, tonal value, and highly polished composition.

His style bears the marks of both originality and classical training.

As a child, he liked to draw, Tommy said. It became an addictive hobby, and he continued to dabble in it through high school. But as much as his love of art grew, he never seriously thought about turning it into a career.

“There’s a lot of people in life that will tell you that you’re not going to make it as an artist,” he said. “You’re not going to get a job. You have a lot of talent, but what are you going to do with that?”

After high school, confused and trying to discover himself, Tommy gave up on his dream of becoming an artist. He spent two years at Hillsdale College, in Michigan, listening to the naysayers and pursuing an Economics major.

But, alas, he was only an average Econ student, and the struggle he faced in an accounting class drove him to reconsider: he had to do something he felt passionate about.

He changed majors and dove into Hillsdale’s art department, studying classics like figure drawing, portraiture, and sculpture. Enamored with the pop art scene of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, he drew inspiration from artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and graphic designer Paul Rand (ever seen the UPS logo? How about IBM?). So he focused his talents on graphic design with the goal to use art in the commercial setting.

After earning his degree in fine art from Hillsdale College, Tommy made the jump from small-town Michigan to Los Angeles in March of 2014. He got a job at Whole Foods Market – as an in-house graphic designer at their Beverly Hills location and later the L.A. branch on 3rd and Fairfax.

Though doing what he loved, Tommy soon realized that the intensity of creating art on the clock had drained his enjoyment of it during free time. He needed a change; a new medium of expression.

Enter digital photography.

Tommy started snapping photos on his iPhone. His neighborhood in Malibu offered plenty of inspiration, and Instagram gave him a way to share his new world with others.

Tommy’s Instagram has evolved since his earliest posts in 2014. He started out posting mainly photos of his own pencil portraits – mostly of celebrities – and tourist spots he visited as a newcomer to L.A. But as I browse further, I see his sense of purpose growing. His page no longer gives off the casual vibe of a dude with a hobby. It’s a miniature journey into the parallel world that exists only in the invisible space between his mind and his lens.

Tommy is eager to share that world with his friends and followers – he always tags the location of his shots so others can access the same vantage points, and he involves his social groups in photoshoots. With about 2 new posts and 20 new followers every day, that community is growing.

To boost his professional exposure, he hobnobs online, liking and tagging other people’s photos and Instagram accounts. One of his favorite moments came when Miguel (of R&B fame) liked and reposted a portrait Tommy had drawn of the singer in honor of his new album, Wildheart. On Miguel’s Instagram, the portrait garnered 19.5k likes. Tommy has also been reposted by Instagram, Discover Los Angeles, Capitol Records, and The LINE Hotel.

Because Tommy doesn’t know how long he’ll be in L.A., he said, he uses photography as a way to explore, to remember the feelings this place creates for him. As a SoCal native, I was struck by his perspective on the familiar city:

“You could tell it was at one point this beautiful, glistening downtown. And then something happened where it just went downhill, and it went down far. And it’s making a comeback, but it’s not there yet, and it’s kind of these two different identities fighting to [survive]… I’ve never been in a city that has that stark of a contrast … it’s exciting, it’s weird, it’s kind of like, you feel a little unsafe, there’s just a very unique vibe to that.”

When he gets the chance, Tommy also adds pockets to his world from other locations, like San Francisco and Chicago. “It’s just always good to shake it up,” he said. “But it’s (also) a fun challenge to put a different spin on something that you’ve seen a million times.”

Tommy shoots mostly on his  iPhone 6, but he recently started branching out with a new DSLR. In either case, he edits his photos heavily to give them that signature pop-art polish.

“It’s supposed to be a glorified version of reality,” he said. “A lot of the magic happens after the photo’s taken.”

To conjure that magic, Tommy likes to use the popular VSCO editing app as well as Photoshop (usually with some ‘80s pop or indie rock music playing in the background).

By the time Tommy and I finished chatting, Alfred’s doors were closed for the night, and my coffee was long gone. But still the neon sign glowed, its cheery red light mutely embodying Tommy’s mantra: Never turn off the creative switch; never stop looking for moments.

“Good luck is when opportunity meets preparedness,” Tommy said, quoting his aunt’s version of the old adage. “An amazing thing can happen today . . . I’m doing what I love to do, and it’s fun.”

Here at RedFence, we love what Tommy does, too.

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