Photographer Tom Johnson first caught our attention with his Another Britain series, a collection of striking images born out of his desire to put a visual marker on the evolution of Britain’s cultural landscape. In his new series, Outside In, featured exclusively in Hunger 6 and opening as an exhibition this Friday, Tom takes a look a little closer to home.
TOM, WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR PROJECT?
I arrived in London as a tourist. Coming from the countryside, you notice that people are often reluctant to make eye contact, let alone make conversation. It’s a fast-moving city, filled with people who perpetually seem to be in a rush – heads bowed, eyes resolutely averted. This is understandable, perhaps, but it’s sad that so much passes people by. It seems that in our deference to the chaos, we can become blind to everything around us, perhaps even to ourselves. We’ll miss things that ought not to be missed.
ANOTHER BRITAIN LOOKED AT THE COUNTRY AS A WHOLE. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO ZOOM IN ON LONDON?
London is a very photogenic city. I’m privileged enough to be able to document it in a concentrated way. There’s a multitude of limitless experiences and pockets of the unfamiliar right on my doorstep. Without any direction, I can snake through London’s bustling life, day or night, and source out hotspots of unwritten narratives. From what I’ve seen so far, acknowledging where I’ve been and where I come from, London is the most culturally diverse and fascinating of all cities. There’s also an indescribable pace to the city that is eventually mirrored within you. I’ve had to slow down and really look at what is going on around me. This was the challenge – to try and provoke a response from a culture that doesn’t have time for the exchange.
WHAT WERE THE AIMS OF THE PROJECT?
First and foremost, it was about documenting with an honest and inclusive approach. I wanted to gather an immense cross section of the population, to expose the multiplicities of our subjects and present them in the broadest possible light.
WHAT FASCINATES YOU ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHING STRANGERS?
There’s an inherent drama to it, an unpredictability that I find incredibly exciting and rewarding. When you approach someone, you can’t control their reaction, and you have to react and adapt momentarily. Every potential interaction is unique, with infinite possibilities. With a camera in your hands, the stakes are raised slightly. You have the potential to document that moment, and I think that scares a lot of people. So you’re walking along on a bit of a knife-edge. Not every request is going to be met with a friendly response. I’m always quite tense and apprehensive; my hands will shake, but then adrenaline kicks in. It’s in these moments of adrenaline-filled tension that I find unexpected things in the world around me, and in myself.
WHAT DOES PHOTOGRAPHY MEAN TO YOU? WHY ARE YOU DRAWN TO IT OVER ANY OTHER ART FORM?
I don’t have the hands of an artist or the words of an author. I’m fascinated by stories and finding the beauty and experience in others, and I’ve always wanted to be able to explore that. Then when I was 16, I got a camera, and found it an amazing way to express myself. It’s a way of explaining to others the way I see the world. The images that I find the most effective are those that suggest a narrative but do not offer a resolution. What lies outside the frame, or comes before and after, is up to the viewer.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR CURRENT PROJECTS.
I have just opened up a creative space in the heart of Shoreditch, called Box Studio, and that’s taking up much of my time. I’m also getting ready to embark on the second part of my project Another Britain, with photographer Jack Eden. This time we’re travelling around the south of the country for about a month in a motor home I bought in 2012. Soon, I’m going to take some time out to focus on my editorial work. It’s so different to my documentary work, but in a funny way, I’d like to think the two could influence each other.
Tom’s new exhibition, Outside In, opens at Box Studio on Friday and runs until Sunday 2 March.
To see more of Tom’s series, pick up a copy of Hunger Issue 6 – Mighty Blighty.
Click here to see more of Tom’s work. Click here for information about The Print Space.