Johan Jehlbo

Flash as Spice

By: Mats Alfredsson | September, 2022

Street Photo art by Johan Jehlbo SPART
Huvudsaken I by Johan Jehlbo

When street photographer Johan Jehlbo goes out with his camera in one hand his flash is in the other and the images are most often close-ups.


The style?

Full Frontal Flash!


I catch Johan online between two morning meetings. He’s in his car that he has just parked. I myself am at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee at hand.

Out of this grows a really interesting conversation.


– It’s a rather extreme way to photograph, street that is, Johan declares. You can’t escape!


– But… it’s also a more honest way to photograph. You are noticed.

’I thought one needed a tougher attitude

When Johan started this eye catching style of photography he was certain that one needed a tougher attitude. He had seen the world renowned and mythical New York photographer Bruce Gilden and his rather brutal style.


– First I thought that that was only doable in New York. That you needed that kind of environment. Now I have realized that it’s not needed.


– The flash per se doesn’t raise alarm. A camera and a flash have a natural relationship.


Johan maintains that most of the reactions he gets come from other photographers. The code is to not be noticed, to be the fly on the wall at the moment of exposure.


– It’s the way you photograph, how the photographer behaves when the image is captured that creates a reaction. I experience myself as a humble person.

Fotograf Johan Jehlbo
Photographer Johan Jehlbo
Street Photo art by Johan Jehlbo SPART
Batboy by Johan Jehlbo

’The flash is nothing but a light

Johan’s mindset and way of action has proven to be decisive. He has the ability to sense when it is right to photograph and when it is not.


– Even if I have the law on my side it isn’t always doable. It’ not appropriate on all occations. It’s not about being right. If that is your mindset then conflict easily arises. The flash is not the problem. The flash is nothing but a light!


Yet this is the question asked of Johan most often. The inclination that the flash creates conflict with the subject.


–  Everyone asks just that !


The truth is that Johan hasn’t gotten into trouble once during the last five years.

’But still, how does he get away with it…?

Yet I can’t wonder how he does it? How he “get’s away with it”? It’s still a bright flash into the face of a complete stranger…


–  In public? I see a moment, a quick happenstance, take an image and move on. Nothing remarkable.

Street Photo art by Johan Jehlbo SPART
W.A. Motorcircus by Johan Jehlbo

The quick modus operandi is possible due to his use of a technique called Zone Focusing. The aperture is set at 16, manual focus and a pre-set focus distance of 1,5 meters. With a 28mm lens the depth of field is several meters. This gives him the ability to simply lift the camera and shoot by feel. He doesn’t have to go through the motion of setting the focus. It is a freer and quicker way to photograph.

–  I photograph a lot by instinct. I predict action. Avoid eye contact. See the action in the corner of my eye and wait until I’m right there. Then I take the image. It creates no attention.


So simple! Yet so hard…

At the beginning of our conversation Johan mentioned Bruce Gilden. But Johan lives as far away from New York City as you can get.


Stehag is a small suburb just outside the town of Eslöv in southern Sweden. With 1300 inhabitants.

’A strong need to express his creativity’

– Well, there’s not much opportunity for street photography just here, he says with a laugh. But my photography includes other styles, somewhat calmer, a bit more melancholic. Sometimes I may capture a caravan for example…


That he fell for photography was due to a strong need to express his creativity.


– I played bass in a band, wrote songs. At the beginning it was my wife who was the photographer. That was when our son was born 13 years ago. I took her images and worked on them in Lightroom.


When her images “ran out” Johan laid claim to the camera.

Street Photo art by Johan Jehlbo SPART
Cyclops by Johan Jehlbo

– I decided to do my own thing! Quickly caught the bug. Took a lot of courses online and rapidly gravitated towards street. I had no idea there was such a genre.


Johan soon found like-minded enthusiasts via Flickr, a digital platform for photographers. He bought online courses. Everything revolved around photography.


– I work in security and went about it carefully, he laughs. I’m methodical.


Together with another dedicated photographer, Clifton Barker from Texas, Johan started a street-critique group on Flickr which they were the admins for. On that basis they founded the international collective Full Frontal Flash with focus on the use of flash lighting in street photography, that was in 2015.

Johan was caught. The rest is history.

’A moment of total euphoria

When I ask him to tell me of his most exiting moment he hesitates.

– I’m not sure I have one. It’s rather when you have waited for something, regardless of what and then it happens. That gets me.

The first time he was at the large street festival Distortion in Copenhagen he felt total euphoria.


– It was packed with people, everything is working out. That’s when I realized that this is what I live for.

Street Photo art by Johan Jehlbo SPART
Huvudsaken II by Johan Jehlbo

When I dive down into Johan’s images I experience his ability to think in layers. When there are several dimensions and goings on in one and the same image. Many times it is an interesting background that makes the image grow on you. Several independent constellations that together become whole. It is not just anyone who can see that.


And Johan definitely does. That is why his images grow on me every time I look at them. Images that are hard to grow tired of.

‘The detail that irritates is decisive’

– There must be something that irritates. An element that adds something extra. That is when the image ingrains itself in the viewer.


The years of the Covid epidemic were problematic as well for Johan. He loves places where crowds move, such as festivals and markets.

Kivik the classic market at Österlen in southern Sweden is a definite favourite.


– Lot’s of people and very intense. All in a short space of time.


– When I get to a place like that I go all in. Right into the bubble and I shoot till I drop. Lot’s of images from such an occation.


It’s then that the lone wolf gets hunts himself full. This type of street photography you can’t do with others. No distractions and you need to be low key.


His images from these markets are fascinating. There is often a sense of wry humor, they suck me into the moment and underneath the skin of his subjects. But most of all the get my brain going.

’All of my images should work as a series’

You can also see that it’s a Johan image. His style is definite. The flash is of course a part of it but not all of it.


– My images should work in context with each. The should have the same style. A lot of photographers jump between their way of expression but I want my images to be able to be viewed as a series.

These days I feel as if I have achived that ambition. It took some years but now I’m there!


But what is the secret behind the success?


– I have studied a lot. Devoured photography books, gathered inspiration from the best. To know what is a good photograph you need to look at good photographs. Of course not copy, but learn


– Seriously, I can’t think of a life without a creative part of it. And it must be extraordinary, apart from the every-day ordinary. That is my opportunity to create something that lasts.

Street Photo art by Johan Jehlbo SPART
29 by Johan Jehlbo

‘There is a man standing with only his underwear on’


Johan becomes totally silent, I see him freeze in the car.


The camera comes forth and he exposes several frames.


– Can you imagine. Some old guy in just his underwear behind a car. I think he was changing his pants…

He shows me the display on his camera and there he is.


It’s the perfect end of the conversation. Crystal clear.


Even though we are in the middle of an interview, Johan hasn’t lost focus on his surroundings. It is then that you find the possibility of making really good images.


Not a moment lost!

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