Dale Johnson Interview

Here at Photographers House we cast a wide net searching to find photographers we woud like to share with our readers. We have been building our list for a couple of years; so when I first contacted Dale Johnson she asked, how did we first come across her work. Unfortunately our net has a few holes and we did not capture the when and where. However, I was able to assure her it was her photographs that caused us to pause. Her work, which is at times stark with a softness to the edges and other times wholly meloncholic, will always draw the viewer in deeper to consider a time that doesn’t seem present in today’s busy world. Her work seems to represent a world more contemplative than our own; perhaps more suited to the past. 

Follow along with our interview and discover a photographer we wanted to share with you.
To see the photographs Dale johnson has shared with us click here

Interview Questions

PH Can you briefly introduce yourself?

 DJ Hi – I’m Dale!  My married name is Dale Duncan-Johnson.  I’m a girl – guess my folks wanted a boy.  I think I was named after Dale Evans.  I was born in the U.S.A. but moved to South America in high school.  I attended a different high school each year, graduating from  Escola Graduada in Sao Paulo, Brasil.  After I met my husband in the 70’s we both returned to college to pursue art.   I studied graphic design at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and subsequently worked in the advertising field with my husband (a commercial photographer) in Oahu, Hawaii.  We opened a photography/design studio specializing in resort hotels in Hawaii.  I designed the brochures and my husband shot the photos.  It was a fantastic time.

PH And of course, the obvious question; how and when did you get into photography?

DJ I took an Introduction to Photography course in Junior College and instantly became mesmerized, but turned to graphic design studies at that time.  Photography was still a huge part of my life because I worked with my photographer husband.  I was “behind” the lens then.  When we retired I was eager to re-engage actively in photography and started experimenting with photographic lenses that would give my work a unique feeling.

PH Where do you live and does your sense of place influence your photography?

DJ I currently live in Carmel -by -the -Sea, California.  This magical place by the beach definitely influences my photography…the different moods and energy of the ocean fascinate me.  I feel compelled to shoot especially when the fog rolls in and covers us in mystery.  It is challenging to come up with new ways to photograph the ocean/beach.

PH When did you start to share your work with the public? Was it a conscious effort on your part to do so or were you encouraged by others first?

DJ My entry into the photography world was serendipitous to say the least!  My husband, a  commercial photographer who returned to fine art photography, was having a show at Weston Gallery at the time.  We had a little get-together at our home after the Opening, and Maggi Weston, of course, was invited.  When she walked in the door she saw one of my photographs on the wall and said “Why wasn’t this image in the show?”  When she learned it was my image, not my husband’s, she asked to see more. She didn’t know I was also a photographer.

PH How would you describe your style?

DJ I tend to create painterly images. I am inspired by both Pictorialism in photography and Pointillism in painting.  Many images are soft, hazy, and dreamlike as found in Pictorialism. The quality of light sets the mood for my images, which in turn evokes a sense of magic, delight and sometimes nostalgia.

PH Do you see your images in your mind’s eye before you start to create? Or is each image a surprise?

DJ Most images are definitely a surprise.  That’s what I love so much about how I approach  my work and that’s what keeps me coming back.  I love experimenting -so when digital photography came along I fell in love with photography all over again.  I love the immediacy of it – the spontaneity it allows. Much like in graphic design I look for form color and texture.  I do not pre-visualize – in fact, images often take me by surprise.  I realize I could not have anticipated the result.  My goal is to create a simple yet provocative image.

PH Specifically, I would like to consider your portfolios titled ‘Paris’ and ‘Prelude to a Story’. They are clearly connected if only by coloring and textures but as I look through these photographs it seems that Paris is sharing with the viewer the big pictures and Prelude is the intimate details within those pictures. Was that your intent?

DJ That was not my intent but now that you bring it up, I can definitely see how you might think that it was. These two bodies of work were photographed at different times and different places.  Most of the images in  “Prelude to a Story” were shot in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The colorization and textures present are outcomes of the way I produce my images.

PH I see on your website you note a connection many have seen, or felt, between the Paris Portfolio and Edward Hopper’s paintings. But I notice a difference as well. Hopper’s work has always felt stark and to me almost soulless at times. I don’t get that same feeling with your work. To me your Paris photographs feels more like memories of places long ago and not unpleasant memories? Am I wrong to feel that?

DJ No, not at all. I do feel the Paris photographs feel more like memories of places long ago. At a very young age my grandmother began telling me stories about her grandfather, a famous artist from Paris.  These stories began to shape an early passion for art and gave me an “instant” impression of Paris in my mind’s eye.  I tried to evoke those memories with the Paris portfolio.  As regards to Prelude to a Story, many have said these images remind them of Hopper’s work because the images evoke a distanced perspective on the world and each as an element of silence.  In their extreme simplification these impressionistic photographs are dreamlike, time-arrested images that feel like silent narrative.  Hopper was a master of isolated moments, embedded with suggestion.  I feel my images reflect an intimacy with my subjects unlike Hopper’s which evoke  melancholy, disconnection and isolation.

PH I see that you have several portfolios on your website related to the sea and water. Can you share with us how they came about?

DJ They came about because I live at the beach, and mostly because I LOVE the beach.  The vastness of the ocean, the weather moving across the horizon, the children playing on the sand…it’s everything I love.

 PH Which Photographers have had the most impact on you as a Photographer? Is there a particular Photo that made you want to be a Photographer?

DJ The Pictorialists and Impressionists are my inspiration.  Edward Steichen, Andre Kertez and Joseph Sudek have strongly impacted my work it.  The lack of sharp focus, the compositions and the muted tones create a sense of underlying mystery.  For me a photograph, like a painting or drawing, is a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewers realm of imagination. I can’t think of any particular photo that made me want to be a photographer.

PH Can you share with our readers an overlooked or underappreciated Photographer that we should know about?

DJ I am extremely biased but I have to say my husband, Robb Johnson! His work is dark, moody and powerful.  It connects us with the emotions of the human psyche.

PH What has been a seminal experience for you?

DJ A decision I made in choosing to use a plastic Holga lens on a Nikon body has allowed me to create images that are somewhat unique.  The Holga lens has inherent qualities that match my “style”. 

PH What’s your scariest experience?

DJ Luckily I can’t think of anything scary.

PH What’s your most embarrassing moment?

DJ Ditto – guess I have been lucky in that regard!

PH What memorable responses have you had to your work?

DJ The most memorable experience, as mentioned earlier, was when Maggi Weston see an image of mine and ask to see more.  I visited The Weston Gallery when I was in Junior College (field trip) and could never have imagined at that time that one day I would be an artist they would represent!

PH What subject other than photography, are you interested in? That nevertheless inform your work. 

DJ Travel!  I love experiencing and photographing new places.

PH How have you grown over the years what has changed what remained the same.

DJ I think my desire to “experiment” has definitely grown and I like to explore different techniques. I am not afraid of trying to express myself in unusual ways.  The one thing that has not changed is that I strive to have my images create emotion and mood.

PH Do you have any regrets to your photography especially when starting out?  What would you do differently?

DJ I would not change a thing. I think by becoming a fine art photographer later in life has served me very well.  I definitely have more patience and persistence now than I had when I was younger.

PH In your genre style of work, what are the challenges/opportunities to your business. How do you envision yourself 5 years from now?  

DJ Challenges and opportunities are always around the corner if you take the time to look for them and take action. Unfortunately, I am very lax in pursuing new avenues for my work. I am too much of an introvert!   In 5 years I hope to remain an artist with The Weston Gallery producing new and hopefully unusual images.

PH What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you? 

DJ I’ve moved 39 times in my life!  And my husband and I have an incredible 45’ Motorhome which allows us to travel the USA and Canada.  We are on the road at least four months out of the year.

PH Is there anything I did not ask about that you would like to share with us?

DJ For aspiring photographers I suggest taking workshops – there are a myriad of different things one can learn.  I owe much of my on-going enthusiasm to Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.  The breadth of their workshops is outstanding.

PH Someone reading this interview and seeing your accompanying photographs may want to purchase a print: how may they do so?

DJ Please contact The Weston Gallery 

To see the photographs Dale johnson has shared with us click here

Dale Johnson’s Website

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