[Photography] Interview with K.L. Johnston

by A.M. Larks

Slideshow, click on image to enlarge


[KELP JOURNAL] Can you talk about why you chose photography? What does this form provide that other media does not?


[K.L. JOHNSTON] When I started college, I was an art major. I had a physical trauma in my junior year that basically rewired my brain for a while, and I had to make some changes in that life path. I gave up on the making of art and moved toward the business side of things. In 2010 my husband challenged me to pick up a digital camera while we were traveling and see what I could do as an artist. No pressure, just good times. I dusted off the basics of my art education and found I could take an acceptable picture. Digital photography gives me a working media that is connective and relatable.


[KJ] What do you look for when framing a shot? What draws you to the pictures you take?


[KLJ] Mostly I wander around with a camera until something clicks in my brain in the region of “oh look, there’s something you don’t see every day—or at least not from this angle.” If it puts a grin on my face, that’s a bonus. It doesn’t matter if it’s wildlife or cityscapes, there must be something in the moment, a presence brought about by proportion and light—or the lack of it—as well as color, contrast, and subject. All of that goes into catching my eye. All of that goes into framing a shot as well. Sometimes the shot frames itself; it’s just up to me to recognize it for what it is.


[KJ] Should photographers be cognizant of the narrative they create of a place or time when exhibiting photos?


[KLJ] Creating a memorable narrative of a place or time is exactly what I’m aiming for. Once any artist presents their narrative, it becomes a dialogue, and people are going to bring their own interpretations and baggage to the talk. I think as a photographer I have to be especially aware of this and be prepared for it. I’m not looking to stir up anyone’s angst. But if someone looks at a group of my photos and leaves with a feeling of peace, or a basic hard truth, or just something to think about briefly while they’re brushing their teeth, I’ve done my job.


[KJ] How has the digital age affected photography?


[KLJ] Digital has opened a whole new world of self-expression for so many people. I’ve been told that digital photography is not art. Or that it’s “cheap art” because anyone can take a digital picture, whether with a camera or a cell phone. I look at it as accessible art. It’s still all the same mental tools and disciplines that an artist brings to the work that determines whether it’s a fun photo or a work of art—although those two are not mutually exclusive. The technology should not make the art of the photo less valid.


[KJ] Are there any photographers that have influenced your work?


[KLJ] I’m atypical in that film has probably influenced me more than the works of other photographers. Movies from the 1940s like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and the horror films of Val Lewton are a “watch and learn” experience if you’re looking for ways to work with light and shadow and blocking. Fast forward to some of the beautiful computer graphics being done in today’s films for lessons in color and proportion. It’s all there. The other thing I’ve learned from the “moving picture shows” is to try to instill as much backstory or future tense into my single shot as possible.



K.L. Johnston is a photographer and poet whose images first appeared in 2014 in South Carolina ETV's in-house magazine Scene. Since then, her photos have appeared in literary magazines such as Camas, Wild Roof Journal, Tiny Seed, and Burningword as well as travel journals and online galleries. She is a self-taught and nonacademic artist, and her camera goes with her wherever she goes. She is a former makeup artist, bookstore manager, professional substitute teacher and is now happily retired from a career as an art and antiques dealer. She is passionate about the outdoors, a good cup of hot tea, and 85% dark chocolate.