When your interest are deep and wide it can be difficult to focus on just one thing. It is no different when deciding what artist to share next with the world. But when we forced ourselves to focus on non-digitaly printed work David Johndrow came to mind immediately. You will see as we did his work is very intimate; just like the processes he uses to create his work. Much of his work is captured in gardens and are presented to us as portraits and often of moments we might miss if we were to walk those same gardens: for that we are grateful.
David has an eye for the flora and fauna of his gardens but it is how he prints these images that adds the texture and depth we enjoy in viewing his work. He prints with silver gelatin, gum bichromtate, platinum/palladium, and gumoil . The images we have chosen to share in our gallery are printed with gum bichromtate and gumoil and yet we would encourage you to visit David’s website to see other works he has printed with silver gelatin and platinum/palladium. We include a link to his website on our gallery page.
David Johndrow studied photohgraphy at the University of Texas. His photographs are included in the Wittliff Collection and many private collections. His work has also been seen in exhibitions within the United States and in many international publications. We sincerely believe you will enjoy our interview with David and the images we share as much as we do.
PH To begin our interview can you briefly introduce yourself?
DJ I’m 56 years old and I live in Austin Texas with my lovely wife Susan. I’ve been making photographs for over 35 years.
PH Of course, each photographer has their own story to tell so will you share with us how and when you became interested in photography?
DJ I bought my first camera so that I could take a darkroom class in the art department at the University of Texas. It was in that class that I fell in love with the process of printmaking. I hand developed the first roll I ever shot and made the first print myself and it’s been that way ever since. After I caught the darkroom bug, I started to get into all kinds of photography, from shooting portraits of actors, musicians and comics to doing my own personal work with alternative processes.
PH Does your sense of place influence your photography?
DJ Yes, my nature work is of the flora and fauna of where I live. Different areas have wild life that’s unique to it and central Texas has lots of interesting creatures. I don’t go looking for things as much as I happen upon them. I work as a gardener so I’m out in nature a lot.
PH When did you start to share your work with the public? Was it a conscious effort on your part, were you approached by a gallery or were you encouraged by others?
DJ I’ve always had work out in the public in some way. When I started shooting the macro nature shots, I knew I had something special, so I started showing them around to local galleries as well as going to a portfolio review at Fotofest in Houston. I found several galleries that wanted to represent my work.
PH Specifically, I would like to talk about your Gum Bichromate and Gum oil portfolios. Will you briefly explain the process for each? Why you have chosen to create images this way?
DJ Well, they are similar processes, in that they both use gum Arabic mixed with sensitizer on watercolor paper, but in actuality they are very different. Not to get too technical, but with gum bichromate, watercolor pigment is added to the gum mixture and printed in successive layers. With gumoil, the gum impression is printed on the paper without pigment. After drying, oil paint is rubbed into the paper and then wiped off, leaving the photographic image. I like printing this way because of the amount of manipulation I can do to an image but also because it is unpredictable. It’s those visual surprises that I’m always after.
PH Even if someone skips the “About” link on your website it doesn’t take long to realize that nature looms large in your work. Will you share with us why that is?
DJ I guess it’s because nature looms large in my life. I’ve always had an affinity for plants and animals but I didn’t really make photographs of them for years. It was when I started focusing in on the small details that I felt I was seeing something that felt personal and unique. When I’m photographing nature I feel like I’m communing with it.
PH J It is also clear that you often work in macro: can you tell us about that?
DJ The first time I looked through a macro lens, actually extension tubes on a normal lens, I felt like I entered into another world. It was like seeing things for the first time. The most common objects took on an otherworldly beauty. I’ve shot mostly in macro ever since.
PH Do you see your images in your mind’s eye before creating an image? Are you ever surprised by the end result?
DJ No, I always try to respond directly to what I’m seeing through the lens. I think an important thing to try to do when taking photographs is to ignore preconceptions and try to see clearly what is actually in the frame. We’ve all had the experience of taking what we thought was a great photo only to have the finished result be nothing like we thought. We project a lot into how we see the world. Photography is an exercise of “pure seeing”. Also, it takes some experience to learn what works and what doesn’t.
PH Which Photographers have ha
d the most impact on you and your work?
DJ I’ve been influenced by a lot of artists, but my favorite photographer is Irving Penn, because he can shoot anything and make it look elegant. He was also a master printer. I had to learn platinum/palladium printing after seeing his prints. I also love Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Nick Brant, among others.
PH Can you share with our readers an overlooked or underappreciated photographer that we should know about?
DJ If you like black and white nature photos, check out Karl Blossfeldt. He did these very architectural plant photos. In the same vein, I like the artist Ernst Haeckel, who did some of the first botanical drawings of very small plants and animals.
PH What interest other than photography do you have? Do they inform your work in any way?
DJ Most everything I do informs my photography. The two interests that have most informed my
photography are painting and gardening. I also practice Yoga and meditation.
PH How have you grown over the years what has changed what remained the same.
DJ The best thing about getting older is I care less. That is, I don’t sweat things like I used to. In my artwork, I’ve become more discerning. I can more quickly judge when something is not working and quickly edit it or fix it. I work more efficiently than I ever have and I’m more patient when things aren’t working. It all comes very naturally to me now.
PH Do you have any regrets with regards to your photography especially when starting out? What would you do differently?
DJ No, I don’t have many regrets in regards to photography. I had to make all of the mistakes I made—and I made a lot– to get to the place I’m at. I’m amazed that I’m still making images after all these years.
PH Are you currently working on a project that you can share some details with us?
DJ I have a few new macro photos in the can, but I’m mostly working on some painting right now. I have been photographing more textures in nature and I’m experimenting with ways to print them.
PH Besides Gum Bichromate and Gum oil what other processes do you work in and do you have a favorite?
DJ I work in platinum/palladium, cyanotype and silver gelatin. I don’t do too much silver anymore because of the cost and the poor availability of the materials. Plus, I’ve smelled enough fixer for ten lifetimes.
PH What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
DJ I don’t know about unexpected, but I have a black belt in Aikido and I’m a musician.
PH Is there anything I did not ask about that you would like to share with us?
DJ No, that about covers it.
PH Someone reading this interview and seeing your accompanying photographs may want to purchase a print: how may they do so?
DJ My worked can be purchased from PDNB Gallery in Dallas, Texas.
Ed Note: The photographs David has selected to share can be seen in our Gallery Room