in conversation with: NEIL JOHANSSON
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.
British street photographer Neil Johansson wanted to document not just the empty spaces themselves, but the interplay between them and the surrounding world. Being aware that just photographing these spaces in isolation would be impossible anyway, as the outside world always intrudes. From the outside looking in there are always the reflections of the surrounding urban environment and the people who inhabit it. These spaces no longer appeared to be empty. Whilst undertaking this project it became apparent to Neil just how widespread this phenomenon is, and how used to it we have all become. It is an unfortunate sign of the times. This following selection of images by Neil were captured in several towns and cities across England and Wales. In this interview, we spoke with Neil Johansson about how he started in photography and what he has learned along the way.
When did you start getting interested in photography?
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.
Where do you find your inspiration?
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.
What is your favourite quote that resonates with you the best?
“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.”
A quote by David Lynch, there’s so many quotes from him that I love. I relate to this because it’s how I started with photography, I just went with my intuition and I will continue to do so.
Who are your favourite artists/photographers? Who has mostly inspired you?
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.
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
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.
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
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.
Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone else just starting out?
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.
What characteristics do you need to become a street photographer?
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.
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
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.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on?
I am working on several projects. I have produced a zine of my work called Rhyl Noir, which features black and white noir shots of my hometown. This is ongoing. I am also working on Noir By Northwest, which is again black and white noir shots but of towns and cities across the Northwest of England. Lacuna is another project about capturing gaps in life, things that are overlooked or very brief moments in time. This is in its early stages. Within-Without is also ongoing, and I hope to produce a zine as soon as possible.
If I wasn't photographing what would I be doing?...
I think I would have ended up doing something creative, it’s in my nature. I’m just not sure what that would have been.