Today we have an interview with Erin Nicole Johnson, a photographer I find really thoughtful and funny and interesting. I think you will too.
Give me the 411 on yourself- education, background, image-making philosophy; your work is so wonderfully full of life.
I’ve been in too many and not enough places. I grew up in Niles, Michigan, then moved to southern Illinois, then moved back to Michigan in a suburb of Flint when I was 15. I attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD—which I graduated from in 2007) but also went to the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto for a semester. After my exchange was over, I took the overnight greyhound bus down from Canada and moved in with a friend in New York. We shared a room (literally—a room) in Washington Heights for a summer and would split the two stacked mattresses apart every night.
My work is heavily based on stories, and the main bulk of my photographic portfolio (and a project which I’m actually returning to) is from a series actually called “Short Stories”. It was initially inspired by finding some of my mother’s old journals in high school, and finding some parallels between what she felt and what I had felt in high school. By combining some of the passages from her journals, as well as mine, I started to make up the skeleton of the work. So, the first step for me when it comes to creating is research, research, research. Taking the time to feel inspired by many different sources, taking loads of notes, and drawing lots of sketches.
I like that you have a bit of everything going on in your portfolio- travel, portraits, some personal documentary- have you fallen into this path, is there one you’ll pursue more in the future?
What I have on my website currently is kind of an archive of what I’ve done so far. I’ve experimented a lot to see what I like best, but truthfully they’re all basically “personal work”!
With the project (Short Stories) that I’m picking back up on—the bulk of which is in the “Personal Work 1” portfolio—I’m hoping to refine my work and mostly focus on personal/fine art. Its basis is somewhat “recreating memories,” but I wanted the newer photographs to focus on “creating” memories: the people you see in a grocery store that make you wonder about their life (what they do, what their family is like, what they think about), or something caught out of the corner of your eye: a flash of a person standing on their front lawn, etc.
What type of commercial/editorial projects have you been up to lately? What type of editiorial/commercial projects would you like to be up to?
The most recent project was the 2008 Annual Report for Fraser, a Minnesotan non-profit that offers a myriad of resources for people with autism (www.fraser.org). My photograph “Coney Island” was also published on the cover of the Water~Stone Review #12, “In the Frame” this year. After I finished my internship, I took off for two months in Europe when I was photographing what would later become “Live Like This,” so photography jobs have been fairly quiet since I returned, which is fine. I’ve started a fairly interesting new day job, marketing sustainable insulation for houses (crazy, eh?).
I always love working with non-profits and would love to continue shooting portraiture or still-lives for periodicals. I’ve also always wanted to shoot a look-book for a fashion designer, and I’m hoping to work something out once I can find more designers nearby.
What is your favorite picture?
I think it might be “Golden Eagle Motel, Golden Arches” because it’s so ridiculous. Attempted sanctity on a motel sign that’s all but shouting, “Go America!” (not to mention motels are not particularly known for being the holiest of places). And what looms in the distance but the Golden Arches themselves? Rather than the gates of heaven, we get burgers. It’s incredibly macabre, but what are the chances of finding this bizarre scene in real life?
How does a tripod assist you in your image-making?
Quite a bit of the photographs are either 4×5 or medium format, so a tripod was definitely necessary.
Additionally, having the camera stationary makes it possible for me to compose the scene before I take the photograph, as if I were directing a film.