Hailing from a small town in central Tennessee, our Hero of the Week is art student and talented film photographer Mirrah Johnson (www.flickr.com),
whose snapshots of poignant moments and beauty of nature we find to be simple yet insightful. She describes her style as wanting to “capture my surroundings and tell my story in an ambiguous manner,” fascinated with the idea of sending a “quiet message” to connect with viewers despite not saying much about herself.
Aside from this personal approach to photography, she also mentions being drawn to the tactile aspect of working with film, feeling a sense of connection to the past by doing what photographers before her have done and repeated from many years back.
In our in-depth chat with Mirrah below, we learn more about what drives her work, what keeps her shooting in analogue, and the messages she wishes to convey through this truly unique medium.
Please tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, and what you do.
I am from a small town in Middle Tennessee. I currently study fiber arts at the Appalachian Center for Craft, and I work part-time. I will receive my BFA in Art Education in 2016. Currently most of my time is spent in the fibers studio weaving, printing/dying fabrics, and sewing.
How would you personally describe your style of photography? What message/s do you try to convey through your images?
I want to capture my surroundings and tell my story in an ambiguous manner. I like the idea of really personal moments for me becoming a quiet image that others see and connect with without knowing very much about me or the moment the photo was taken in. I don’t know how easily translated my messages are, and that’s okay with me. Sometimes, taking a picture feels like I’m telling a secret. For me, photography is a language used to communicate all kinds of emotions, tell all kinds of stories, and express things that cannot be put to words. It is a subtle yet powerful way for me to show others my perspective – what I see and experience. And I sense an inexplicable magic in photographs. Sometimes I see one or more things to capture that relate within a magical, foreboding, or ironic composition, and other times the things I want to capture are simply beautiful to me. I’m big on the small things. A running theme in lots of my photos seems to be our relationship to nature/society. To me there is poignancy in just about everything, and I try to use my camera to catch the moments in which I notice it. Sharing these captures is a way to connect with others.
Which elements of shooting film are you drawn to the most?
For one thing, I’d just rather do things with my hands than with a mouse and a screen. Film feels magical, as cheesy as that sounds. It somehow feels more tactile as well, as opposed to digital. I love the act of opening up a new roll of film and loading it into my camera. I’m a very nostalgic person. These methods have been repeated by many people for a long time, and I sense a connection to the past through using film. Another thing about it… there truly is nothing like the moment when I see a developed photo for the first time. The experience is quite addicting. And to be completely honest, I think the quality of film is genuinely better. But hey, to each her own.
What would you say is your greatest inspiration?
Hard to choose just one! Nature. Resiliency. People’s tendencies to endure and be positive through change and suffering. My family/friends/people I meet all the time. The knowledge that everything is always in flux…That’s not just one thing, but it’s hard to choose my greatest inspiration! There are so many things.
In this part, we get a little more up close and personal with our Hero with a handful of fun questions about her sources of inspiration, shooting habits, and more:
Name someone whose art makes you shiver.
If you had to choose a camera + film to shoot with for the rest of your life, which combo would it be and why?
My mom’s old Canon AE-1 and pretty much any 800 speed film for the versatility of light sources. My mom’s camera is a nostalgic item for me and just takes beautiful pictures.
If you could time travel to the past and be the assistant of a great photographer, who would it be?
Ansel Adams, I guess! Think of all the beautiful places you’d see!
Can you share the weirdest situation you’ve faced being a film photographer?
I feel like taking my film to a drugstore is always a weird thing. Once, I got stuck for about two hours in the parking lot of a strip mall area waiting on a Walgreen’s to fix something with my film. It doesn’t sound that crazy, but let me tell you, it was awful.
If you had to choose a movie that defines you both, personally and aesthetically, which one would it be?
Not sure if that’s possible, but the movie Amelie is very aesthetically beautiful and symbolic, and her story is special to me.
Do you remember the photo you took that made you feel proud for the first time? Can you share it with us?
Not sure about the first one, but one day when I was in middle school I took a photo that I really loved of my brother’s hand reaching out to some trees. I don’t know why, but I was so happy with it.
At Whattaroll, we believe that inspiration can come from many different sides. Can you write down and share with us a paragraph from the book you’re reading at the moment?
Sure! I’ve been picking through New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. I’ll share one of them.
By Mary Oliver
Last night in
the fields I
lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke the
morning light was just slipping in
front of the stars,
and I was covered
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers
Describe your shooting routine.
I don’t really have a steady routine. I have a couple of friends who are really great to take pictures with, because we connect really well and it just works. It’s an organic process of seeing where we can fit visually in our environment. Lots of my favorite photos have come from traveling and documenting what I see. Other times, it’s just a matter of seeing something I like and having my camera at hand. Most of my photos are pretty candid. Every now and then I use self-timer to take self-portraits.
Speaking of portraits, who’s the face you’d love to photograph but haven’t had the chance to have in front of your camera yet?
Someone I go to school with who has a striking face and personality. I should carry my camera around with me more often.
Who do you think we should feature in the next Hero of the Week section?
Polina Washington, Amalia Sieber, Alison Scarpulla, Brigette Bloom, Margaret Durow