The Jamie Johnson Interview
When I think of an example of someone who lives a photographic life, the first name that comes to mind is Jamie Johnson. Jamie is a long time Los Angeles friend, and in the last year, I have witnessed an explosion of enthusiasm, commitment, and exploration with all things photographic. This is not easy when your day job is a family photographer (she is booked every day for months in advance), your night job is mother and wife, your weekend job is fine art photographer, and you spend your vacations as a travel photographer. Oh, and she happens to be an avid photography collector. As part of her fine art commitment, Jamie is about to open an exhibition showcasing her recent efforts with the Verge Collective at the Duncan Miller Projects Gallery in Los Angeles on October 12th.
Before Jamie disappeared into the world of large format and historical processes, she discovered she had been creating a series without even realizing it. Her series, One World, examines the similarities between cultures. She has amassed a huge collection of imagery over the years and began to see connections all around her. Jamie has a book of this project that can be ordered here.
Lately, Jamie has turned her focus away from her digital camera and has returned to her photographic roots, using a large format camera and historical processes. As Jamie states, “The world we live in today with digital cameras and i-phones, everyone is a photographer, I find that photography is losing its artistic vision and beauty. As a photographer and a photography collector-I often find myself obsessed with old cameras and old techniques.”
Congratulations on your upcoming show…can you give us an idea of what you will be exhibiting?
Thank you! My plan is to show some new work that I am in the process of making. I’ve been dabbling in many different alternative processes from Cyanotypes, Van Dykes and Palladium printing, but I’m really finding myself passionately in love with the Bromoil process. So I am attempting to bleach and ink my most recent work…fingers crossed!
As your photo therapist, let’s first talk about your childhood. Where did you grow up and what were some of your interests?
Yes you are! I am so grateful for the years of your life changing therapy! I grew up in San Francisco and New York City. I was the child that always had a camera in my backpack–shooting my dolls, my friends at school and birthday parties, but had no thoughts of becoming a photographer. My goals were always for the Broadway Theatre!
I’ve known you a long time, and I have seen the most remarkable burst of creative energy coming from you in the past 6 months. Are you on any particular drug or blend of coffee that you can share with us? What’s going on, girl?
Thank you for noticing! I wish! There is definitely a lot of caffeine involved! I think I was burnt out for a while. It’s hard to shoot five days a week commercially and then find time to be inspired about your own art. As amazing as digital photography and technology has become, sometimes I find it’s not much of a challenge any more. I started to lose my passion for photography a few years ago–it had just become my “job”. I needed to re-examine everything I loved about photography. There was something missing. I put my work camera down on the weekends and decided to re-visit wet plate collodion which I had some experience with years ago but was never very good at it. It frustrated me. That was exactly the challenge that I needed! I was back-and excited about photography again! Frustrated, challenged, and ……passionate! I now get great pleasure in trying a new technique or mixing up old ideas with new. I laugh at how my arms are now usually stained with silver nitrate. I love that my bathroom is now a chemical smelling stained mess. I enjoy throwing a roll of film into a dusty garage sale camera. I like trying to go back in time and shoot the way it was done in the first place. Most of all I love trying to figure out, when looking at my new work, what is art and what is just a mess. To say I’m obsessed with photography would be accurate. It took diving into alternative processes and eventually building a darkroom in my house to reinvigorate new passions in me.
You truly are the hardest working photographer I know–creating photographs for a living during the week, creating photographs for your personal work on the weekends, and going on extended photo travel forays for vacation. Honestly, how do you do it all and stay sane?
You straddle so many photo genres and techniques—-fine art, documentary, historical processes, digital, etc. One moment, you are creating digital family photographs, then wet plate collodion prints for your fine art, then shooting a series on homeless children, and polishing if off with a look at Tibetan monks. At this moment in time, what area is your passion and how do all those interests inform your work?
I shoot every day. Monday thru Friday is all for clients, so my weekends and vacation time, it is important to me to find a personal vision for myself in my own work. I love travel and feely deeply passionate about children. Where ever I’m shooting- at work, documentary shoots across the world, or in my garage tattooing up the neighbors kids or building a mock circus in my yard -in the name of art-all of my projects are about or incorporate children.
What advice do you have to other photographers in maintaining creativity?
Look at all photography all the time! Old and new and see what inspires you. And most importantly, for me, was stepping out of my comfort zone – find a challenge!
You use your children (and an army of their friends) in much of your fine art work—how do they feel about being in front of the camera, and has it changed your mother/daughter relationship?
It’s been great! I love working with my children and hope that it instills a passion in each of them seeing their crazy mom at work! They really enjoy it-what little girl doesn’t want to be a model, but this way they can do it all under my supervision. The parents of their friends have all been amazing letting me tattoo up their small children, pour fudge over them or drive them out to abandoned buildings. We have a good time!
More chaos, I hope!
And finally, what is your perfect day?
A nice vacation out of town with my family, my camera and a suitcase full of vintage clothes!
Seven Deadly Sins
As a mother I work hard to balance an awareness of the troubled world we live in with the beauty and wonder that is also around us. I believe it is important for my daughters to learn the values and virtues of kindness and generosity for example by knowing the consequences of selfishness and greed.
In this juxtaposition of ideas that inspired this series of seven one of a kind tin types showing the Seven Deadly Sins. Photographed with a wet plate collodion process that I feel illustrated the magical innocence of youth alongside the darker recesses of human nature.
Michael Donnor: Notes on a Paper UniverseJuly 31st, 2014
Clare O’Neill: Contemporary Photo EncausticsJuly 12th, 2014