The lost boys...A conversation with

BO Hylén

Written By: Baldur Bragason | January, 2023
Photo: Bo Hylén

I sit down at my pool/dinner/work table at my home here in the countryside in Sweden and I reach out through ones and zeros across the sea to Normandy, to another photographer who has become an expatriate in a foreign land. Me an Icelander in Sweden, calling a Swede in France.

And through our long talk we not only find so many similarities with how we moved through our lives although we were born a generation apart but we also found ourselves in the same cities across the ocean at the same time as well as here in Sweden where our daughters were each at the French schools in Stockholm at the same time.

At times it got a bit uncanny, Bo was on his way to move to Santa Barbara when I was there at school, we were in Los Angeles at the same time and later in Stockholm. We spoke for ages before we got around to what the Face Time call was supposed to be about, the interview, but it was already much more of an exchange rather than an assignment, a conversation rather than an interview that would be altogether too long for this format.


Firstly though, you should know a bit about Bo.

Cayenne Black Forest ad, South Africa 2002

He isn’t your average guy with a camera who’s gotten lucky with a couple of images here and there. Nope.


Apart from being able to build himself a good life as a photographer which so very few of us are able to do, he’s one of those that can be creative on demand for top tier clients. Again and again, day after day, 5 or 7 days a week. That is even rarer.


Here are some of those advertising clients….  CBS, NBC, Apple Computer, Alpine Audio, Paramount Studios, Infinity, Acura, Lexus, Maserati, Volvo, Mitsubishi, Citroen, Peugeot, Renault, Nissan, Porsche and pretty much all of the American car brands along with most of the heavy hitters amongst the large advertising agencies.


These are not low maintenance clients or easy to keep happy.

Apple test drive ad, Los Angeles 1984

Bo, I look over your career and it’s so impressive and so, so many things that I want to talk about but if I start at the beginning, how did you start out in photography?


–“Well, my older brother Åke was a well known photographer in the 50’s and 60’s but tragically he died in 1967 in an accident at only 39 years of age. I got work as an assistant art director at a small advertising agency in Stockholm but my career as a commercial photographer basically started after my wife Lisa and I moved to Cape Town.



In the beginning I did mostly new car tests for magazines, car rallies and Formula 1. Cape Town is a small town in many ways and people talk, turned out that a photographer that had been running a studio there for an agency was leaving and they needed a replacement to be their in-house photographer. I had been shooting a lot of cars for South African Motors so I got a phone call from Alan Ralf and for three and a half years I was shooting in that studio and doing car advertising for Ford for example. I was really able to develop my commercial advertising work and being able to work a lot. I had a studio, two assistants, a secretary and things took off.”

And then?

 –”I went back to Stockholm 4 years later and opened up a studio with my nephew and we got quite a few advertising accounts but things in Sweden at the time were very different from what I was used to. The advertising business was very different, most of the art directors I had been working with in South Africa were imported there from established agencies in London and quite a few of them had won international awards so the atmosphere was on another level, as were the budgets. After a year in Stockholm I decided to move the the U.S and went to San Fransisco but after a month I realized that San Fransisco was too regional and I moved to Los Angeles and opened up a studio on La Cienega Blvd.


It was tough in the beginning, I was unknown and didn’t know people but after a while I started getting some assignments from smaller agencies and did a few gigs for the television networks.”

Scania R Serie international ad shot in Amazonas Rio Negro 2005
Scania R serie Launch ad, Scotland 2004

Things changed in 1980 when I started working with a rep called Joanne Hedge, after she got in touch with me I started getting bigger clients both through her and by myself.

But the big breakthrough came in 1983 when I started working with TBWA Chiat/Day in LA together with an Art Director called Marten Tonnis. He had just started to work at Chiat/Day and worked with a new client of theirs called Apple and the legendary Creative Director Lee Crow ran the show.

So we shot a lot for the Macintosh launch at the Super Bowl in January 1984 and for the next 4 years there was a lot of work for Apple until Chiat & Day lost the account to BBDO.

Aside from Apple I worked with another photographers representative called Marsha Fox and there was a lot of car work and I shot for pretty much all the brands sold in North America. Four or five days a week I was shooting on assignment. Sometimes seven.”

To a photographer that sounds heavenly, why did you leave L.A then?

–“Well in 1990 Lisa and I got twins and something happened with the advertising industry after the Gulf War started in 1991. It was almost as if the air went out of the whole business. I still had work but not at the same frenetic pace as before. Then in 1992 when the riots happened we had a burglary in our house up close to Mulholland Drive while we were in the house and there were no police available due to the riots. And we lost the desire to stay in the city.”

Same thing happened where I lived in Westwood actually in 1994 but I can’t imagine having your wife and children in the house, scary.

–“Yes, so we decided to move to Santa Barbara.

Where I was at school at the time.

–“ Small world isn’t it.”

Yes it is…. The four seasons of California, draught, floods, earthquakes and riots.

But you didn’t stay there did you?

–“ No, we had bought a house in Provence a few years before and I figured we could live there and I could commute.”


Commuting to work in California from Provence, oh, the hardship.


–“Well it worked” Bo says with a smile. “I also started getting work in Europe as well although in the beginning I was not well known there, I was already represented by Jacques Trinquart in Paris and through him I got Citroën, Peugeot and Renault and later with François Pallud at Imaginativ Productions I got Lexus and Nissan. We worked together for over 20 years and he is a good friend today. I also got an agent in Düsseldorf, Christa Klubert and there were a lot of clients in Germany after that, especially after I did the launch images for the Porsche Cayenne.”

So what now?

–“ Well, Covid helped me take the decision to retire, well semi-retire, I’m doing fine-art photography these days but I won’t lay down my cameras any time soon…”

Lexus, Berlin 2006



Falsterbo, Sweden 2016

Stockholm, Sweden 2009

Berlin, Germany 2007

Landscape Photography

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