August 10, 2020
Photography by Neil Johansson
Interview by Melanie Meggs
Photography has long been a way to capture moments, emotions and places that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. For British street photographer Neil Johansson, it was a passion to document the everyday lives of urbanites and their forgotten spaces. But what Neil found was that these spaces weren't as empty as they seemed. Through his lens, the reflections of the surrounding world and the people inhabiting it were revealed. Spanning from towns to cities across England and Wales, Neil's images tell a story of our ever-changing world - a familiar scene with which we have become all too familiar. In this interview with Neil, we delve deep into his journey as a photographer, the lessons he has learned, and ultimately the powerful insight he has gained from his captivating photography. It's an exploration into the life of a street photographer - a journey worth taking.
“High streets have always been places where you could do your shopping in many and varied independent shops. Recently however, large supermarkets have been built on the outskirts of our towns and as a consequence, with their huge car parks and the ability to buy everything you need in one place, the small independent shops of our high streets have suffered. In addition the rise of online shopping has contributed further to their demise. This has led to empty spaces that often remain unfilled. The sad truth is that months and indeed years can go by before they are occupied again.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH NEIL JOHANSSON
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Neil, when did you start getting interested in photography?
NEIL JOHANSSON: I took photography for A-Levels at School. But it was only after university I seriously got into photography. I just started walking around my town with my camera. In 2013 I won a place on Goldsmiths’ International Urban Photography Summer School which took place in 2014 and I never looked back.
TPL: Where do you find your inspiration to photograph?
NJ: When I started I tended to take photos of anything that caught my eye, it’s only later on where I’ve really looked at other art works for inspiration. Subsequently I’ve found my inspiration from films, a lot my work is inspired by film noir and neo noir. Also I’ve been inspired by paintings and album artwork.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
NJ: At first I was more inspired by artists, Edward Hopper in particular. But I subsequently started looking at other photographers work. Saul Leiter has been a big influence on me as has filmmaker and artist David Lynch, in terms of unusual composition and capturing atmosphere respectively.
TPL: Has your style of photographing changed since you first started?
NJ: When I started I tended to shoot quite a lot, filling SD cards easily. I have become much more focused now, I instinctively know what I’m after.
TPL: Where is your favourite place to photograph?
NJ: I have a few places I like. Chester is one of my favourites, it’s really great for getting noir images. Rhyl, my home town, is another, there’s just so many aspects to it, almost like having different zones and it is again great for capturing noir shots as the light is often really good.
Intuition is the key to everything, in painting, filmmaking, business – everything. I think you could have an intellectual ability, but if you can sharpen your intuition, which they say is emotion and intellect joining together, then a knowingness occurs. - David Lynch
TPL: Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone else just starting out?
NJ: To some extent you need a decent camera to get the shots, but really it’s about the eye.
So to begin with the best thing you can do is grab a camera and start shooting, and just keep on shooting as often as possible. By doing that you work out what you like and what you don’t like, you become more focused after a time and suddenly you find you’ve developed a style.
TPL: What characteristics do you need to become a 'good' street photographer?
NJ: Patience is certainly a very important quality to have. You’re not going to get those great shots straight away, as with anything worthwhile it takes time. It’s very important to keep going and not to give up and to enjoy the process.
TPL: Have you ever been involved in the arts before photography?
NJ: Not as such. I did Art for GCSE and A-Level. My mother was Head of Art at my School and I learned a lot about art from her. She even showed me how to use Photoshop when I was starting out.