Since the photographers featured in the Local Photographer Showcases in each city are supremely talented and excited about reaching new audiences with their work, we will be regularly featuring them to give you more insight into their work and their experience Crusading. Next up is Tom M. Johnson from the Los Angeles Pop-up:
Tell us a little about your background as a photographer and where you are now with your work.
At 37, I became a photographer fairly late in life. Before photography I was a fairly successful model. Many ex-models give photography a go, and some have success. The most well known photographer ex-model I'm aware of is Ellen Von Unwerth. Prior to being a model I didn't have any art or photography background. However being a model introduced me not only to cameras and photographers, modeling exposed me to the world of art and culture. Initially I photographed models, but that didn't fulfill me and I felt the need to learn technique, so I moved to Los Angeles, took classes and workshops, and got on the assistant circuit. And after a few years of shooting this and that I became a portrait photographer. In an attempt to support myself I shot weddings, but it was a wash. Weddings don't pay nearly enough for the time and energy that they suck out of you. I shot somewhere around a hundred weddings, enough to where it was no longer exciting, so when the business went digital it was my cue to get out.
I was very depressed after my mother passed away in 2005, and I made a rather bold but not well thought out (unwise) decision. Although I had some success shooting portraits for different magazines, it certainly wasn't enough or sustainable. On a whim I quit L.A. and returned to Paris. I lived in Paris in the eighties, and it was the best time of my life. Then I was young, making a lot of money, and we, my fellow model friends and I, were the kings of Paris. My wife thinks this period was a curse, because my life hasn't been nearly as pleasant since. Anyway I contacted my old modeling agency and thought I could make enough income to support me and my photography project, Au Bout de la Ligne, the artistic statement for the project is on my website. The project has a lot of potential, yet it was impossible for me to have completed within 9 months. Unfortunately, I was no longer the king of Paris and modeling was a bust, so I had to abandon the project far short of completion. If Sydney and I were to ever win the lotto our first payment would be spent on an apartment in Paris, and I would finish the project. I must note that while working on Au Bout de la Ligne I developed tremendous respect and appreciation for the work of Eugene Atget.
After returning from Paris I pretty much quit photography, and for nearly two years I rarely picked up a camera. By chance a friend told me about a workshop at Julia Dean on the first step to becoming a fine art photographer taught by some woman named Aline Smithson. I had this work from Paris, so I enrolled in the workshop. I don't know whether to thank or curse her, but it was Aline who got be back into photography. She encouraged me and supported my work. So I got off my ass and returned to a project that I had been working on before I departed for Paris. "Portraits of Sacred American Suburb" is what most people in the fine art world of photography know me for, and it's the work that most people seem to be drawn to. It's been featured in blogs and several on-line magazines. However, it's not the type of imagery that's easily marketable. I've showed the project to enough gallery owners to know that even though they appreciate the work and its quality it's not something they believe they can sell. I've also approached book publishers, and I imagine if I was monomaniacal about getting Lakewood published I could, but the money to publish it would most likely becoming out of my pocket. Rather, I prefer to invest my energy and money into new work.
For the last year my focus has been redeveloping my portraiture portfolio with the desire to get back into the editorial market. It's my goal that sometime in the next couple of months to return to New York and hopefully make some face time with photo editors. During this last year I've been mulling over the idea for a new project, and it's been extremely frustrating. I would love to come up with something conceptual that is truly my own and completely different than my prior work. I don't know whether it's fear of failing, being a derivative of other work, it not being artistiic enough, or that I will take on another project that will ultimately end in a dead-end, but for reasons I can't seem to fathom I've had a very difficult go at making that first photograph. Yet, in less than a week I am going to disappear to a location I've been thinking about for a year now. I'm really looking forward to it. We shall see.
How did you hear about the Crusade, and what were your initial impressions?
Somehow through the photography community I started following your blog and Facebook page. I'm also friends with David Bram and Michael Sebastion, so your name and efforts kept popping up on my radar. I read about the Crusade, but because I'm so bombarded and overwhelmed with so much photography stuff I really didn't have time to develop any initial impressions. I only began thinking about The Crusade after you asked me to participate in the Abbot Kinney event.
Were you excited to participate in the Local Photographer Showcase? Why or why not?
I wasn't excited about the event when I showed up. In fact, I was a bit hesitant and ambivalent. I wasn't sure it was worth my time and energy. But once I say yes to something, even if I have my doubts, I give it my all and do my best to contribute and be a positive team member. However, I did look forward to meeting you and the other participants. Since I live outside of L.A. I'm in a bit of a cultural vacuum, so I miss the interaction and camaraderie with other creatives. As well, I did have a bit of anxiety due to the fact that I wasn't thrilled by the quality of my prints. It had been a very busy week prior to the event, and I didn't get around to making the prints until the day of the event. If you recall I telephoned you that morning to ask if I could use a different image once I found out the original image I selected to donate looked horrible when I attempted to print it. And the image I did print was not properly color balanced, and I didn't have time to correct it. And even though no one else at Abbot Kinney could see it, I did, and it annoyed me because it fell short of the expectations I have for my work. Also, I feel a letter size print lessens the impact of my work. In sum, I was somewhat embarrassed giving away work that I felt didn't best represent me.
How did the event go for you? Was it like you expected or different? Better or worse?
Much more than imagined I really enjoyed the event. It was fun. I sensed that everyone made the best of it, and we didn't let the apathetic "I'm too cool for this" L.A. crowd hinder our enthusiasm. I was actually a bit nervous about that. Abbot Kinney neighbors Venice Beach, and I was worried the hipster crowd would think we were just a bunch of hucksters. Ultimately we had a good group, and it was great that Aline and other photographers either connected to you or Aline came to support us and participate. And once things got rolling I got over my initial apprehension and the quality of my prints, and I allowed myself to appreciate the joy of just giving something to somebody without any expectations.
What do you hope will come out of the experience for you - personally and professionally? Do you think those are realistic expectations?
I didn't participate in the event with the anticipation of getting anything out of it other than connecting with you and other artists. So in that sense my expectations were met, and I walked away well-satisfied. And yes, I would do it again. I've been at this long enough to know that one event like this or any one event is not going to dramatically change things for me. Having success for me is cumulative. It's a long slog of making new work, showing it, and repeating that process over and over. I've learned that it's best if I enjoy and embrace the process and let things happen. I took up surfing rather late in life, and it's the hardest sport I've ever tried to become good at. I struggle at it, but I thoroughly enjoy it because catching a wave is a tremendous high. I'll never be as good at surfing as I would like because I started way to late, 49, but that in a way is good because my expectations are not high. I also enjoy surfing because the sport tests my mettle, and through confronting my innate fear of the ocean and large waves I've learned a lot about myself. I can be such a coward, yet I keep returning to the ocean to confront my fears. One huge lesson I've taken from surfing that I try to apply to photography and for that matter life in general is: be patient, but not passive. And to surf a wave, no matter the size, you have to be fully committed to catching that wave.
Tell us about the image you gave away at the event and how to see more of your work.
The image I donated to the event is called "Les Couleurs de Marie d'Ivry." It was made in the fall of 2006 near the metro terminus Marie d'Ivry. It's an image from my project "Au Bout de la Ligne" where I went to the terminus of every metro line in Paris to make images in that quarter of Ile de France. The majority of these terminuses were outside of Paris in the Paris Banlieue (suburb). To see more of my work please visit www.tommjohnson.com and be sure to check out my "One a Day" tumblr blog.