Photography Articles and Techniques
Keith Johnson: Endlessly Entertained
From Vol. 1 No. 3

Keith Johnson

As I travel through life I am endlessly entertained by what I see.

I love how the camera extracts and abstracts a subject from its surroundings and can formulate a new or different “scape,” and I am fascinated with how people claim their scape with material goods.

For me, photography is about discovering those situations in the world that grab my attention. The camera provides the means to preserve those moments for later contemplation. That can be the color of an airplane ticket carbon, the blue wall that perfectly matches the sky, or various greens growing against a green wall. These unusual juxtapositions create visual ironies that cause me to shake my head in disbelief.

My response to what I see is to record on film the fine detail of the situation. The craft of my picture making is conveying a sense of the subject through its color relationships. I spend time working through the “scene” that made me stop, often using a full roll of film to discover its essence.

Over the years my work has informed me of certain repeating icons that show up to tap me on the shoulder and remind me to pay attention. While editing I am entertained by the intrigue, irony, and incongruities of the pictures. I use this process to learn about my picture making, to learn about my world, and to learn about photography. I am a kind of social anthropologist.

I try to photograph as often as possible, with a minimal amount of equipment so that I know the materials and hardware intimately. To that end, I have reduced my equipment to one camera and one lens, a Hasselblad 903 SCW with a Zeiss 38mm f/4.5 Biogon; one meter, a Minolta IVF; and one film, Kodak Portra 160 VC 220. Since I photograph in similar lighting conditions I find that a meter is often unnecessary. Unfettered by technical concerns, I am free to make pictures.

I have worked with a Hasselblad square (6x6) format exclusively for most of my adult picture making life because I enjoy the challenge of this format. The square puts a premium on working with picture elements to create tension, movement, and relationships within the frame.

In the belief that the act of observing is the sport of photography, I allow the work to inform me about what I have seen and how I should proceed. My contact sheets are the daily diary entries. I do not try to dictate the flow of the work. I am thrilled when a color palette change occurs or a different construct to the frame shows up. It is part of that fascination and magic of the medium that pushes me along and allows me to find out where I am going.

Keith Johnson studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, graduating from RISD with an MFA in 1975. He also spent a year studying at VSW with Nathan Lyons. Ten years of teaching led to a move to the business side of the medium, ultimately supporting his fine art making by becoming Hasselblad USA New England District Manager. His work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. with more than 25 solo shows and is included in collections of RISD, GEH, VSW, and others. His recent work is on exhibit at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia at the Mednick Gallery. He is currently working on a book of his travels. He lives in Hamden, Connecticut, with his wife Becky and two sons, Ben and Whit.