47 minutes | Mar 11th 2021

What Life Is Like – Documentary Photography, with Stella Johnson

This is the second episode of the B&H Photography Podcast produced with the collaboration of Leica Camera, and we are pleased to welcome photographer Stella Johnson to the show.  It is the “in-between moments of life” that Johnson describes as the subject of her work; work that includes books and documentary series made in Cameroon, Greece, Nicaragua, and Mexico. In this easy-going conversation, we discuss the nature of her long-term projects, and the motivations that return her to the same places year after year. We also talk about composing with rangefinder cameras, being at the eye-level of your subject, and the weeks that go by without making pictures and the verbal and non-verbal communication necessary when you are invited as a photographer into a community or home, as Johnson has been. For her personal documentary work, Johnson has relied on Leica M cameras and a 35mm focal length lens. We discuss this focal distance in terms of a personal comfort zone and one that even felt safer during pandemic time. She keeps her settings simple and concentrates on composition and the moment; she tends to find light and locations that she likes and wait for the images. Because Johnson’s compositions are so strong in black-and-white and her color work is minimal and adroit, we ask for her thoughts on how to work with both formats and if a fluidity between them is easy. Finally, in searching for a definition of documentary photography, we mulled over the effect of time, of returning to locations and subjects, of its distinction from photojournalism, as seeing “what life is like” and the stories of “just daily life.”  Guest: Stella Johnson Photograph © Stella Johnson
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