Artist feature - Joanna Johnston
Written by Donna MacMullin
Joanna Johnston (Calgary, Canada) is a fine art photographer with a professional background in architecture. Though the use of double exposure techniques and painterly composition, her images explore the opposing forces of light and dark, urban and natural settings, public and private life. Her work has been shown at galleries in Toronto and is held in private and corporate collections in Calgary, Toronto, and Los Angeles. She is currently living and working in France.
Art Collectif caught up with her recently to learn more about her work.
\ After working as an architect, I’m curious about what motivated the change in direction to pursue art full-time – and why photography?
I started focusing on my artwork full-time about four years ago. I realized I had let too much time go by. I had an opportunity to take a break from working full-time and so I did. Photography was always a part of my life ever since junior high and I got access to the school dark room. I am not exactly sure why photography, I have always had a camera in hand. The process of composing an image, working with available light and then developing the negatives always thrilled me. Even now, with digital, I love to open up raw files in Lightroom, as if it is a darkroom. I am not extremely technical with the camera — I would say I work until I see what I want to see. Sometimes that involves taking the same shot over and over again, so thank God for digital — as I don't have a limitless budget for film.
\ What themes are you exploring in your work lately?
I am working on double exposures created in the camera. It is technical because of the use of the camera. I have chosen not to use Photoshop to create them, so they have to be created on-site. I really love composite images and by layering images on-site, it speaks to the dimensional experience of physical space.
\ You did a series of photographs recently called “Suspended Garden” – what inspired it?
This is a series based in New York at The High Line Park. It explores the fantastical relationship between the garden and the buildings that surround it. It is quite a magical place, one that removes you from the streets but does not remove you from the city entirely. As I experienced that park, I realized the great contrast of the two entities, that of the city and that of the park, were remarkably different and yet you experience them at the same time. It was a series that looked at that beautiful relationship.
\ The juxtaposition of urban landscapes with natural elements in your work is quite interesting. Is your intent to challenge the viewer in a particular way by presenting these opposing forces?
I guess yes. We all experience the world in different ways. Through this series, I hoped to kind of “paint” the hard cityscape with the soft, organic, ordered messiness of the plants. I think we all "think" cities are a good thing but our bodies crave the movement, the sound, the "naturalness" of gardens and woods. The response to the series has been overwhelmingly positive because people see how powerful they are together.
\ What is the best advice given to you as an artist?
Don't listen to anyone else but your intuition. It is usually right. Sometimes it whispers so you have to slow down, turn the other opinions down and listen carefully.
\ What do you believe it takes to ‘make it’ in the art world?
Determination and luck.
\ What do you want the world to know about you?
Since moving to France I have tried all varieties of macarons but I will always love Oreo cookies dipped in milk. And on a less serious note, I really believe photography is not just the practice of pointing and shooting. It is a serious way of seeing the world. It is an opinion and a way to speak to people.
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