Stefan Bladh’s series Hidden Kingdom is a “fictional journey through inner and outer scenarios formed by situations and encounters”. The photographs included have been shot over ten years while travelling around Europe, although the geographic location is unimportant to Stefan.
Focused on capturing “a certain state of mind” rather than particular places, the title acts as a metaphor for the “endless longing for something greater to come, which often blinds us to reality as it is,” says Stefan. “These thoughts are related with Buddhist preachings such as how our existence is fleeting and that behind everything we call reality there is only a vastness of silence.”
Stefan creates scenes that challenge the day-to-day, by experimenting with perspectives and weaving ambiguous narratives into his images. Throughout we see a range of imagery including haunting landscapes of unusual places and eerie portraits. “I was looking for a visual language, so while working on this project I radically changed my way of taking pictures,” explains the photographer. “I started composing from farther distances and trying to create a sort of filmic tableaux. I wanted to find a style that could underline some kind of unreal feeling or some kind of mental state.”
Having travelled to various European landscapes in countries including Moldova, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Albania and Serbia among others, Stefan’s reasons for photographing these places was “based on being curious and the need to visualise my own experience of reality.” While his images are an interpretation of the real world, Stefan’s style is rooted in the documentary tradition, in that he explores who we are and why we are here. “I want to examine aspects of the boundaries between our inner world and the outer reality, and explore themes of memories, time, life and death,” explains Stefan.
Hidden Kingdom has recently been made into a book published by Novel Publishing, and the process meant Stefan had to study his images in even more detail. “It is always difficult to make a book – trying to sort out the most important pictures and formulate yourself on how to transfer the feeling and story into a book,” says the photographer. “In this case me and the designer [Jesper Örtegren] really wanted to make something very simple and to trust the pictures in every sense.”
Cleanly designed, the book places focus once more on details within the images rather than what they’re depicting, with little to no captioning included. “I guess the intent of my work is to create a space in the viewers’ minds that takes them somewhere, as if it was a sort of meditation,” says Stefan. “I hope that the viewer will come back to the work and look again.”