Nicolette Johnson interview

Nicolette Johnson's photographs hold moments of love and remembrance.

— i.

— i.

— ii.

— ii.

— iii.

— iii.

— iv.

— iv.

— v.

— v.

i. From De facto
ii. From Too Little A Word
iii. From A Real Winter
iv. From A Real Winter
v. From A Real Winter

All photographs © Nicolette Johnson

Tell us about where you grew up. Where is home?

I was born in the UK and lived the first five years of my life there, so my first memories are of forests and rain and fox dens in our garden. 

Then my family moved to Texas, where we stayed for the next ten years. Living in the Southwest of the United States molded my love for the desert and mountains, landscapes which I often find myself missing.

I've lived in Brisbane for seven years now, and I love the city and the people in it dearly. So 'home' is a confusing notion to me.

"If you can photograph other people with the intention of telling their stories, then you should be able to photograph yourself in order to tell your own story."

There is a strong autobiographical thread in your work. How do you feel about making public what other people might find too intimate to share?

I think that if you can photograph other people with the intention of telling their stories, then you should be able to photograph yourself in order to tell your own story. I guess that I have never really been shy about sharing, and it is lucky that I have a partner who feels the same way. 

A lot of my works are cathartic responses to events that occur in my life, and by making images in order to heal, I hope to allow other people to share in that catharsis.

Your series of photographs 'A Real Winter' is a remarkable record of a pilgrimage you made to your grandmother's house in the wake of her death. Can you tell us about that process? 

I had been wanting to photograph my paternal grandmother, my Oma, for a long time before her death. A remarkable woman, surviving the war in Germany and later marrying my American grandfather, Opa (who died 17 years ago), she and her house always seemed like one entity. Relics of her life crowded every surface and corner.

When she died, I decided that I still wanted to photograph her, only she would have to be absent from the pictures. So I photographed her environment, her things, her sons, and myself.

Writing, letters and documents like till receipts accompany some of your photographs. Why do you incorporate these elements?

For me, these items are a record, a history of an event or a story. They can serve as much purpose as a photograph can, only in a different language.

"I still wanted to photograph her, only she would have to be absent from the pictures."

When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?

I knew I wanted to be a documentary photographer in my second year of university, when I took a class way above my skill level at the time called Social Documentary. Thinking I wanted to major in art, I struggled all the way through, but at the end of the year I felt I had accomplished something so important for myself. After that it was not enough for me to make art; I needed to make images that told the stories of people.

What inspires you?

It's hard to say. People I love inspire me, so I guess, in turn, love inspires me.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm exploring something a little bit different to my usual work. I am photographing people in the favourite room of their house.

www.nicolettedjohnson.com