Philip Johnson: Capturing a Moment
By Summer Krafft
Philip Johnson is one of the most humble and generous photographers in the Modesto area. Primarily a portrait photographer, it is not unusual for him to stop someone on the street or in a crowd and ask, “May I take your picture?” As he puts it, “The question I don’t understand is ‘Why do you want to take my picture?’ I forget that people sometimes have to be convinced that they’re beautiful.” And he seems to see some beauty in everyone. His answer? “Because they’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. My response is always ‘Are you kidding me? You’re fantastic.’ The ‘Why?’ just blows my mind. Because everyone makes a good picture. There’s something about everyone, behind all the masks and layers, underneath all the armor.” And he finds that in everyone he shoots.
When asked about his start as a photographer, he said, “Recently I realized I had my first camera when I was six. But I bought my first camera when I was seventeen. So, that’s when I began searching and opening myself up to other people and the world around me.”
Since then, his work has found a focus. On his current work, he said, “I feel it’s about connecting with another individual, if only for a split second. But that’s all it takes. Think about the power of eye contact, the things you feel in a fraction of a second. In regards to capturing the moment, that would be the moment, that flash of familiarity and vulnerability.” And more specifically, he added, “People. It’s all about people, and it’s only ever been about people. Whether it’s about me or a more selfless act of recognition and celebration of another. Just seeing someone and taking the time to say hello, sometimes to people who are ordinarily ignored.” But Philip also clearly understand the value of what it means to an individual to be truly seen, even if only for the moment of that camera clicking.
When asked what his work means to him, he stated, “It’s access. It lends itself to all sorts of experiences. For example, I was sent to photograph a turkey that had been selected to be pardoned by the president.” In addition, of upcoming projects, he said, “I’m excited to be part of Foto Modesto and to curate a show by the Modesto Photography Prothusiasts and to be working with Ken White on his book project.” As well he should be.
Philip spends a lot of time photographing aspects of our community, and our community as a whole. He regularly shoots for The ModestoView, the Central Valley Business Journal, and Center Stage Conservatory. He photographed backstage at MJC, as well as regularly shooting at both the Open Mic Night and Poetry Nights held at The Queen Bean Coffee House. He said, “I love meeting people, I love events, I love performances–having my own authentic experience without judgement or criticism. Just getting lost for that moment.” Philip’s attentiveness is what I imagine every performer hopes for in an audience member or photographer when they step onstage.
As far as what he hasn’t explored yet as a photographer, but would like to, he stated, “I would like to explore fashion photography and editorial photography more. More set-up stuff, more studio and location work. I’d also like to explore poetry and prose and music and motion…other arts. This is but a journal entry, each image.”
In continuing on in the vein of work he’s doing, but moving forward, Philip added, “I’d like to travel to other communities and other parts of the world. I’d like to find out how best I can fit and be most useful to humanity. The best thing about my photography is that I get to meet so many people. That’s my opening, my hello, my greeting, and then, hopefully, I’ll get to know you. I’ll get to see you again, say hello again, take your picture again.” And our community is honored by each individual photo he takes, each brief hello.