Sunday, June 18, 2017

This is Queen and her pet rat Tom. I was driving down a road on thy other side of the river and I saw this group of kids walking towards the Horse Club it was a sunny afternoon in the late rainy season here in Omaruru, warm but not crazy hot and wonderful puffy clouds in the Eastern sky. As I drove by this group of kids lost in my own Sunday daydreams it registered moments after I had passed, that the tallest of the kids had a rat on her head…..

Consider that for a moment, young lanky African girl walking in the sun, on a dirt road, at the edge of the map, leading her posse with a white rat on her head…..

I couldn’t believe what I had seen and forced myself to turnaround and confirm that it wasn’t a flash back, an echo of a different kind of sunshine. As I pulled up next to them I’ll be dipped, the young lady was indeed sporting a rat on her head…This was too good to pass up. Turns out she is the daughter of a man whom I also photographed a few years ago, this is that image, called ‘buy-a-donkey’ it’s only really amusing if you speak Afrikaans and that’s for another day.

Over the next couple of weeks I had the opportunity to spend more time with Queen, I’ve learned that she goes to the best elementary school here in Omaruru, where she is a gifted student, that she is a devout Catholic who is seriously considering becoming a nun, a rarity in these dark days. Tom was given to Queen by a friend of hers that moved away 5 years ago, making Tom a very old and wise rat. Tom and Queen are very close, there were many times when I was watching them that Tom would settle in and close his eyes, content with where he has ended up. His age is visible in close-up; I was moved by his timeless countenance, he looks like he could be a character in a Spielberg movie, there were times when I expected him to open his eyes, fix me with his gaze and tell me to piss off…..

I hope you enjoy this portrait and the quiet little story behind it…..

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Five Ninety Five

Five Ninety Five

Long ago I was on Interstate 80 heading west across a Wyoming winters night. Patchy squalls of horizontally blowing snow created these moments when the headlights were obscured by the white flow in a dazzling screen of moving white dots some across the road, most strait at me as though I was jumping to light speed, tire hum and road noise muted by the snow.  An instant later the blowing snow would be gone and the silver moonlit high plains would open up for ever in front of me, punctuated only rarely by a lonely farmsteads yellow barn light, miles away across the plains.

On nights like these I would listen to the radio, AM radio, FM just couldn’t penetrate the darkness of the high plains. On this night I picked up an AM station broadcasting out of Las Vegas, one moment clear, as if the conversation was in Fords cab, the next fading out into the whine and howl of static and night.

There was a comedy routine playing, the comic was poking fun at the stereotypical Southern, Bible Thumping, Old Testament spewing, Baptist. In a deep drawn out drawl meant to simultaneously strike fear and overcome the hand to wallet reflex.  It went something like this.

                Friends, our CHURCH!, Gawds holy church is in dire need, that’s why today I have a special offer for all you true believers out there in the night. I’m askin yew to open your hearts and wallets and shed the light of hope on this ministry so we can continue doing our LAWDS work to save the desperate damned sinners of this world.

                If yew send me just five ninety five, today and today only I will send you,       your very own,     plastic baby Jesus for your car dashboard. And today and today only if yew send me just four dollas more I’ll send you his beautiful loving mother Mary, to hold her sweet baby Jesus and protect yew and yours as you drive the highways and byways of this great Christian land we live in.

The snow squall closed in, the signal faded out, leaving me to the rhythm of my wipers and the low hum of the heater fan. The rest of the routine lost to the night and the wind.  In that moment drifted away in my own thoughts I wondered…..

Why does their Gawd always seem short of cash?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I used to dance

I used to dance,

a lot,


Those were the days we would get ready to go to P. W. Hoseapples by firing up a G, destroying a bottle of JB or Glenlivit when times were good and smoothing out the mix with a little Columbian. In  my head I was fluid in motion, an awe inspiring, gold chain and polyester wearing, inner thigh moistening, god damn disco dancing mother fucker, praise be to sweetbabyheyzeus there weren’t smart phones…I got sober,  quit blow, cigs and refer 30 years ago and somewhere in that transition I lost the dancing. I was going to say I lost my rhythm, but truth be told I don’t think I had much, ever.

We only ever had one real objective on those nights, to get lucky. As one half of the disco twins Danny and Donny I ended up going home alone, most of the time. The memory of those times I didn’t,  are largely lost to the fog of my addictions.

……..Although there was this time that Pluto and I woke up in Lewiston with a couple of comely sisters, tall, very tall Idaho farm girls…..

It was the 80’s.

I am eternally grateful the universe saw fit not to snuff out my dim witted idiocy.

30 years later gem bidness friend Mikola turned me on to Bose noise canceling headphones. They completely changed my traveling life. To be able to largely filter out the white noise of air travel makes the flying bus a little less onerous. They allow me to sonically disengage from the chaos of international travel.


I also like to put the headphones on when I go out to shoot, my IPhone randomly cycles through my tuneage and once in a while the spinning wheel lands on a song that takes me back, way back, my foot starts a tapping, my head starts swaying to and fro as the rhythm takes hold, I find myself dancing,


still badly.

 In the moment, alone under the clean African sky it doesn’t matter and far more importantly I don’t give a shit that I can’t dance like Travolta……The music, the scene that unfolds in front of me and my camera as the sun leaves this side of the ball, sometimes leaves me weeping at the beauty of it all and my great good fortune to bear it witness…..

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!