27 Frames – Jeff Johnson
/ Matt 02.08.2016
Ever since I saw 180º South, Jeff Johnson has been a personal hero of mine. If you have not seen the flick already, I strongly recommend you stop reading this article and watch it immediately. It will likely change your life – or at the very least inspire you to get off your ass and see more of this beautiful planet. That said, we are truly stoked that Jeff, a longtime staff photographer for Patagonia agreed to participate in the 27 Frames project. In case you are just tuning in to this new series, the concept is simple: we sent 27 single use (disposable) cameras out to some of our favorite photographers, they shot stuff with it, then mailed it back to us. We developed the film and are sharing the results with you (and the photographers) now. In this instant, digital age, we want to pay homage to a snapshot photo process we grew up with ourselves — waiting for the film to develop and being surprised by the results. These 27 Frames belong to Jeff Johnson.
Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a surfer, climber, skater. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Lived on the North Shore of Oahu for about 15 years. Now I live in Santa Barbara with my wife and baby girl. I got my first real camera in 1999. My first published photo was in about 2001. I also started getting some of my written work published around that time. Now I work as a photographer, writer, director, and creative consultant. I’ve been a staff photographer for Patagonia Inc. for over 10 years.
How did you first get into photography?
Even though I lived on the North Shore, in and around some of the best surf in the world, I wasn’t into shooting photos of the surf. I’ve always been into a photojournalistic approach to things. I was into documenting what my friends and I were doing, like sailing our Hawaiian canoe around the island, travel, and lifestyle. I used to put on slideshows in our garage.
Film or digital?
I don’t think there is any point in debating whether one is better than the other. It’s all personal preference. I started with film: color slides and black and white print film. I still shoot film occasionally and love it. Digital is definitely easier and quicker and its mostly what clients want. The problem with digital, for me, is sitting in front of a computer. I can’t stand it. But if you’re thinking in terms of quality? There are things we can do with digital that you could never do with film, like shooting in very dark, low light conditions – it’s mind blowing. But frankly I’d be stoked if the digital thing never happened. I think it’s cheapened photography in general.
When was the last time you used a single use (disposable) camera?
There have been a few weddings where they put the disposable cameras on every table. That was super cool. The photos they got from people just taking snap shots were better than the hired photographer.
What did you decide to shoot with your camera for this project?
Originally I had a bunch of trips lined up, some for play and some for work. And I was excited to take the disposal camera along. Then every trip fell though and I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I almost sent the camera back to you guys. My wife and I had a baby girl in October. We named her Adler Beau. She’s the best thing to ever happen in our lives. But I had basically been at home for almost 3-4 months. My wife could tell I was getting antsy not traveling and getting out there not used to sitting still. Leica camera gave me a new camera to test so I decided to go out to Joshua Tree for a few days by myself, do some climbing and try out the new camera.
Did you have any interesting experiences along the way?
I taped some pink gel over the lens of the disposal camera. I wanted to give the photos a pink tint. Not sure if it worked all that well. Anyway, I took off one morning at about 4:00 AM. I mostly just walked around the desert thinking about things. This alone time is something I’ve been used to having my whole life – just taking off and disappearing for a while, reading books, writing in my journal, etc. But that’s going to change now that we have a kid. So I thought mostly of Adler, how now when I leave I kiss both my wife and baby girl goodbye. My wife and I are always grappling with whether or not we want to continue living here in the California rat race or disappear somewhere remote, off the grid, I don’t know, raise animals, get a job at the local library… And that’s mostly what I though about while taking these photos. I was reading a great book by Lionel Terray called Conquistadors of the Useless. While sitting by a fire one morning I read this quote: “To live in society at all means by implication a certain submission to the will of others…” I thought about that.
What was the biggest challenge (if any) you had with the project?
No real challenges. I wanted to shoot in sequence to tell the story of leaving and returning. I couldn’t see the photo count in the little window so I never knew how many photos I had left, so I don’t even think I shot the whole roll. One shot didn’t come out that I wish did. One night during the trip I heard that Lemmy from Motorhead died. I’ve been a fan of his since the early 80’s. My best friend Mike Kennett turned me into them. Mike was all about Motorhead. He went to a ton of shows – even had a huge tattoo of the Motorhead dog on his arm. Mike died of cancer a few years ago. So I went to this weird bar in Joshua Tree and did a few shots for Lemmy and Mike. I took photos but it was too dark.
What was your favorite image from the roll?
I’d say my favorite shot is of my wife and little Adler. I just can’t get enough of them.