Back to Nature

Hallå Magazine, Stockholm

January 1996

Text by Pelle Kronestedt

A few years ago, Stephen Johnson started photographing completely digitally. His pictures could be seen as a response against stupid experiments with filters and effects.

Stephen Johnson is an American nature photographer. In his project "With a New Eye" (to be a book, CD-ROM, and a touring exhibition) he is photographically documenting the national parks of the United States. To look at the Johnson's pictures is like listening to classical music; beautiful symphonies and breathtaking landscapes.

"I am working to document the landscapes I've always loved," said Stephen Johnson when Hallå spoke with him on the phone recently. He describes one of his visual memories of canyons formed by breaking water, wind and ice. A sort of monumental sculpture of stone.

"It is impossible to describe in words my relationship to the national parks. Through my landscape photographs, I hope to share my experiences."

Digital technology is giving him possibilities he never had before. A year ago, Stephen Johnson stopped using traditional silver emulsion and the darkroom. Instead, he now takes all of his pictures digitally, with far better results than were possible with silver emulsions.

"It is incredible to see the images appear on-screen while I am scanning them onto the digital back. All photography should work that way, so that what you see is what you get. It is a little bit like the feeling of Polaroid. But the digital process gives almost complete control over the making of photographs.

I will never compromise with the quality of photography. You always want to be better than your materials. The color, particularly, looks like more real in the digitized form, which silver film never did. The missing link can now be lenses: the weakness of the lenses that were not visible with film, but now you can see these shortcomings, because the digital technique is so excellent."

Digitally hip pictures are showing up everywhere, the results of experiments with different filters and special effects. Stephen Johnson's pictures are like a reaction against such work, instead his work is realistic, almost to the limit of digital surrealism in its beautiful, almost perfect form. He doesn't think there is necessarily any relation between digital photography and digital manipulations.

"Most people confuse the two. They are different genres. Just because something is digital, does not necessary mean that any manipulations have been made."

Twenty years ago Stephen Johnson worked with the legendary Ansel Adams: famous for views which are similar to those Johnson is to seeking.

"Ansel Adams would have loved this technique if he were alive today."

Stephen Johnson's pictures will survive longer than traditional silver film. The silver will oxidize, but digital information has the potential to exist indefinitely.

Slowly most of our beautiful world turning away.

Stephen Johnson Home Page
Last updated on May 22, 1997. Mail comments to:
Copyright ©1997, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved.