In his work, Johnson employs inventive experimental analogue techniques to investigate the malleability of the photographic image. In Berlin, he produced a new segment of his ongoing photographic project, ‘Treading water,’ which represents an attempt to collaborate with place, by allowing elements of the landscape to more overtly steer the photographic inscription process. What results is a highly unpredictable visual arrangement that fits somewhere between intention and chance.
The photographs in this series have been taken along Berlin’s various canals and lakes; then later submerged in the water itself. This intimate relationship with the landscape allows the film to transform, mutate and decay over varying durations of time.
On a technical level, Johnson has photographed various plants and wildlife along Berlin’s rich urban canal system. Once the film has been developed, he returns to discreet location where the photograph was originally captured to submerge the film underwater for durations of up to two months. Gradually, the film becomes malleable, as color layers are stripped away, and the minerals, bacteria and pollution of the water slowly disintegrate the medium into an unpredictable abstraction of color and texture. After the film is left outside to dry, bacteria continue to eat away the image into material abstraction, demolishing the pictorial, and freeing the photo-object from the burden of depiction. Through spatio-temporal abstraction, ‘Treading water’ investigates the inherent disorder, chaos, turmoil and beauty of nature; qualities reflected formally in the shapes, colors and texture of the work itself.
Of his motivations, Johnson states:
“In part, this project stemmed from my personal dissatisfaction with conventional photographic technique, partly with respect to the current age of digital ‘saturation’ of images, post-processing techniques and computer editing software. One of my underlying frustrations with digital photography is the distinct feeling of sterility. I think that digital processes have become so refined that nearly every image we encounter is dusted, anti-scratched and edited to the state of frozen perfection. The ‘saturation’ of images produced by the camera apparatus leave us to accept a desensitized version of the world in which we exist. With the evolution of digital cameras, the ‘medium’ of photography as being a mediation between image and observer is largely rendered obsolete: there is no materiality.
This project responds to such concerns through a deliberate materialist practice. By leaving in elements of dust, dirt and other material traces from the land, “Treading Water” welcomes certain irregularities and contingencies that are produced outside the confines of the camera apparatus.”
The exhibition takes place in the context of Johnson’s three month Artist Residency at SomoS.