Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dumb Luck

Really early on my road to becoming a photographer, I started entering competitions, and then as now I didn’t do so well, the first 2 years that I entered I got bupkis. In those days most competitions required you to either send prints or CD’s of your work, (note not DVD’s) one competition I stumbled onto was the Royal Print Society’s (UK) annual print competition, it had been going on since Queen Vicky’s time, so I thought WTF I’ll give it a go. I entered a number of things which I loved and well they didn’t love so much, then as an afterthought I also included this.

To my amazement the Brits selected it for the catalogue, essentially an honorable mention for the top 130 prints submitted; my bull-bull came in 129th out of 130. The ice was broken!  It wasn’t 131st……

I have entered many other birds in many other competitions since; I did pretty well with a bee-eater once and beyond that not so well with things ornithological.

In my gallery however there is one bird photograph that has consistently sold well, this one. I call it “two states” a reference to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that likely only makes sense to me. I think most of the buyers, buy it in spite of my title.  Truth be told the image was simply blind luck, I had the foreground waxbill square in my viewfinder, hit the shutter and only later at home did I see the rapidly moving uncertainty behind it. Looks great, dumb luck.


A few weeks ago I was on a commercial job shooting lodges in the northeast of the country. I was waiting for the sun to start easing back so I could take some shots around the pool when I noticed a couple of bull-bulls hanging around the pool as it was damn hot, they were cooling off in the pool every few minutes. I like bull-bulls, I had time, I had my 300mm f2.8 and a couple of bean bags, so down I go on the deck, eyeball to the viewfinder waiting to see what if anything I can get, my expectations were, well, non-existent, I really was just killin time.  I shot a few that looked like this. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Then I got this in the middle of a 4 shot burst, 
I have also blown up and cropped the water bubble that’s just in front of its chest. Wow.


Here’s the thing and perhaps the lesson in this ramble. I looked at the image on the cameras LCD screen, I could see it was blurry and likely nothing, but I kept it anyway, cause, “two states” was in the back of my mind.  Most people would have dumped this and moved on. Lesson learned, keep all of them until you can get home and put them up on a screen and really look…….sometimes magic emerges from the tip…..

I'm still thinking of a title for this new one.......

Friday, April 19, 2013

I haven’t lived in Massachusetts in 40 years, doesn’t matter, I am and always will be a proud son of Boston, regardless of the truth, that I hailed from the burbs 20 miles out.

I am relieved that the bombers turned out to be a couple of twists from Chechnya, in the new world of 2013 we will, ironically be far more able to process this reality, then had they turned out to be IRA wannabe’s from Southy. 

I cannot watch the news without the tears flowing. When did I become such a sentimental slob? This is one more visual outrage added to the images forever burned into my mind, Kennedy in the Lincoln, arms pointed skyward above Martin Luther King, Rosie standing over Bobby, the Shuttle, the Trade Centers collapse, now the bastards have taken away the marathon.  Thank God they didn’t blow up Fenway.

I hope they catch the last one alive. I hope they break out the towels, the buckets of water, and find out what twisted rationalization they had for doing this.  Killing him is too easy. This motherfucker needs to suffer, for eternity and that’s just what I’m going to ask Allah tonight as I drift off to sleep.

Be strong Boston,

Sunday, March 24, 2013

There’s nothing quite like the sting that comes from paying for a good ass whuppin…
If you are serious about photography, sooner or later, you will take the big leap and dip your lily white toe in the shark infested sea of competitions…..If your ego is unusually fragile, you best be leaving your shoes on and staying the !@#$ away from the shore line of competitive despair.  The competitions are insidious in their siren like calls, whistling out of the darkness of the internet,” hey big boy, come on, it’s not that much money, your stuff’s good, really good, you’ll do great, hell maybe you’ll win the whole enchilada and take home the new Buick full of money and camera gear AND don’t forget if you act now you could also win that trip to Mars.”
Works for me, where do I submit…….
Sometimes you even get a personalized invitation, here’s mine from what is arguably the most important international competition of them all:
 Dear Mr. Johnston   
  I remember your outstanding and successful photography from our contest 2011 very well!  This was excellent photography!
However we missed your images in our 2012 edition so much that I decided to write to you today.
I hope that I can convince you with this letter to enter your best images in the world's largest annual photo art contest:   


Trust me, if that shows up in your mail box, you start dreamin of glory……So you read the instructions in the call for submissions, look in your library or worse yet undertake a competition specific series of shoots, size ‘em, name the files just so, hit send, visit PayPal, cha ching, and wait.  Most times you forget the date they say they will let you know what you won (it’s good to have hope) and  when the mail shows up in your inbox, your little ego driven heart goes pitter patter and then …..
WHAMO you moe-ron, did you actually think you had a chance, fool. (Say it like Mr. T for full effect)
Well, I exaggerate, they are a little gentler when they bend you over and the bullwhip cracks. 
Usually a variation of this;
Hello, (Notice now they have forgotten your name, when they were trying to get into your pants you were on a first name bestest buddy basis)
I regret to tell you that your submission(s) was/were not selected to appear in our money spinning photographer of the century competition. The response to our call for submissions was great, and while Judge Darth Vader was impressed and challenged by the amount of excellent work submitted, he had the difficult task of considering many factors when making his final decisions. Unfortunately, your work was not one of those selected, but we can assure you it was seriously considered. (Yeah sure it was)
I have had a little success, just enough to keep me going back to seaside and sticking it in, paying my fees, waiting. Tap tap tap and then getting my ass wupped. In the last month or so I managed to not make the cut in the Namibian Land Matters in Art exhibition, FFS it wasn’t even a competition, I will resist the temptation to rant, lest it stink of sour grapes, (rest assured however that I am seriously bent over the judges decision) I submitted a series of images that were based on this simple theory, ownership of the land is irrelevant if it has been destroyed by pollution and neglect, neither of which is permitted under the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia.
This is one of them.

I also submitted this one to Open-2-Interpretation along with 4 others, one of the five made the top 40, but not the all-important top 30. Crack goes the whip……
And now I am waiting tap tap tap for my dear friends at the Super Circuit to let me know how I fared in this year’s competition.
I’m feeling lucky.
My work was well thought out, perfectly executed; this year will be my turn. (Hey Moe-ron…)
There will be some 80,000 entries, I am thus far the only photographer from Namibia to ever have stepped up to the plate and entered. I shall consider myself a winner if one of my submissions makes the 1000 images they reproduce in the extraordinary catalog that they send to every single photographer who enters, and if it really is my turn, then I’ll get word via a letter that begins with.
Dear Mr. Johnston, Congratulation’s, we are pleased to inform you……
PS. If you haven't had a look at my website in awhile, please have a look, I've been working hard on it.....

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Speak now or forever keep your yap shut......

Speak now or forever hold your peace….

I love that moment in a wedding, the collective breath holding, the collective sigh of relief as the moment passes in silence punctuated by a few nervous laughs and great puffs of exhaled breath.

On Saturday passed, I had a wedding gig at Daan Viljoen Reservoir/Park about 20kms west of Windhoek. Fortunately it was on the low side of sweltering for this late afternoon wedding. A great time was had by all.  I still find photographing the process a blast, I think of it as stream of consciousness portraiture. The day requires intense concentration for 8 to 10 hours or more.  Never knowing when circumstances will serve up a classic image. At the end, when the bouquet has flown I am always exhausted.  The next day when I begin to plow through the images I see the payoff from the attention spent.

To have such a pivotal role in creating the record of the day, images that will serve as memory triggers down through time is really a privilege. Thank you Ryno and Malinda!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rolling the dice for fame and fortune

I digress......

Living as I do off the edge of the map so to speak I have essentially zero opportunity for real time, face to face interaction with other photographers, access to workshops or other learning opportunities. Mostly I struggle through issues by sheer force of will or with the help of kindly photographers in the outside world. One thing that happens with your work, when you show it to family or friends, is they will always say Wow! I love that picture to your face and then to your Aunt or Uncle, Brother Sister they will say, "you know we're worried about Chris, it seems he has living alone with his 30 cats for too long....."

The solution to that is to pony up your cash and enter competitions. Something I do with painful regularity. I usually get past the first round, which is where the images that are blurry, skew, have a finger on the lens or are otherwise complete fecal matter get cut. When I am really fortunate I get to the final round, few things will goose your ego like the letter that begins, "Dear Mr. Johnston, we are pleased to inform you that your image 'portrait of a young lady on the Hindenburg' has been short listed for the final round of judging. Then it goes quiet and I know close, but no ceegar.

That is not to say that I haven't lucked out a few times and made the awards, sometimes honorable mentions, sometimes a place and a couple of time the brass ring. Win (rarely) lose (mostly) or draw I keep sluggin it out.

One competition I enjoy is called Open to Interpretation, ( ) I made the finals and was selected last time out for 'Fading Light' and I have spent a good deal of time over the last month creating 5 images to submit for the current competition, 'LustLove'. As this is a family rated blog I will show you the last of the 5. This is my good friend Mistress Hannah D who somehow makes chocolate cake sensual...thank you Hannah. WOW!

PS. This also marks my first posting on Facebook.....

Monday, February 4, 2013


Onward through the heat......

We have been flirting with 45 in the shade off and on the last couple of weeks here in the sunny part of deepest darkest. For those of you who don't do ‘C’ 45 is 113+/-. The last few years here at the edge of the Namib, we have been blessed with exceptional rains, 750mm two years ago, over 500 last year, normal is 250 or +/- 10 inches.  We don’t ever get rain without the heat, but there are plenty of years where we get the heat and no rain.  ‘13 is shaping up to be one of those.

So here I sit in my office, aircon already on at 10am, I know full well its environmentally irresponsible of me but for @#$%sake its bloody hot.

The next installment in the Garden series is this photo of three lovely Herero ladies. They walked into my studio a few weeks ago while taking a break from a funeral here. Unlike the Western world where funerals are generally a succinct affair, here they can go on for days and rarely will stretch more than a week.  With the rampaging effects of HIV and AIDS here, it is not at all uncommon for someone to have a funeral to attend most weekends. In some ways this tragedy of health, has become a social event where people gather to pay their respects and to also socialize.  Unlike the West, tribal women here to not wear somber attire to the funeral, hence the colorful dresses. Which I might add are the height of Herero fashion.

In the mid-19th century with exposure to European fashion, particularly Victorian fashion Herero Women began to adopt this style and then develop it into their own unique interpretation. Prior to that, it was very coarse cloth and animal skins. It can take 10m of cloth to make one of these elaborate dresses which does not included the many layers of petticoats underneath.


Enjoy the week were ever you are……

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Year, new project: As the loyal followers know I live in Omaruru Namibia, just at the edge of beyond.  The upside is I have near limitless access to people, places, and critters. The downside is that I largely work in a bubble. I have little or no access to meaningful conversations with other photographic artists. I am a regular participant of photographic competitions mostly in the outside world (OSW) which while a decent ego stroke when I win or place well, provides me with no meaningful feedback on what and how I can adjust my work to, well, improve. It is supposed to be an evolutionary process after all. But unless you have meaningful exchanges, critiques you get stuck. Competitions are money making undertakings, not designed to help you grow.

Late last year, I bought for the price of a couple competitions, an on-line portfolio review with. EYEIST (

Its pretty straight forward process, you submit 30 images, the portfolio is assigned to a qualified reviewer. In my case,  Ms. Susan Baraz, Ms. Baraz has an impressive CV and on the face of it, has seen and knows, a whole lot more than I do about what does and what does not make a great photograph.  A hundred bucks and a few days later and I received a 5 minute audio review. Overall it was a worthwhile experience. Her observations are that I am a bit chameleon like, in that my style is all over the place, apparently a bad thing. Ms. Baraz liked my nudes, my studio still life’s but recommended I concentrate on my portraiture.  AND that I work hard to create an attributable style.

Omaruru has always provided me with an eclectic cast of characters; imagine the issue from the cast of Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. No shortage of great faces.

So my ongoing project called ‘garden shots’ (for now until I come up with something arty) began late last year with this engagement photograph of my friend Chris and his new bride. Chris is a Prison Guard Officer at the Omaruru Prison, grew up in a small town about 75kms from Omaruru where he was married just before Christmas.

Thanks for reading, By all means pass my blog link along if you have a mind to.