“I think it’s really irresponsible to take someone’s photo and not know who they are. To me that’s like a one night stand.” But make no mistake: In John’s lens, the subject precedes the portrait.
And like many artists, monotony preceded all of it. Rewind 2009: Hotel valet, server, bicycle hauler, car salesman, and OTR semi driver. 2009 – 2013 saw a lot of jobs. Jobs that turn into responsible careers for many, but for creative’s are hell, providing enough money to get by, and too many mindless work hours to question everything.
It’s a hell, and an 18-wheeler, he may not have left were it not for a local counselor named David. Listening to John’s heart, he said he heard the words of a social creative but saw a life of idle isolation, the passion of an artist with little to show in return. Fear, societal pressure, money – the usual culprits for would be artists. But David captured them with clarity, a photographer of feelings; bringing light and focus to blurry thoughts, and for John the next step forward.
It all sounds neat and tidy, a bit story-bookish or typical. But he’d be the first to tell you losing a friend to murder in August 2014, two friends to cancer, a cousin, a great aunt, his grandmother, and four other close friends and family members before 2015 was finished... is no fairy tale. The kind of stuff that put Nose Grows Some by Thom Yorke on constant repeat, the stuff that made even his Crosspoint counselor cry as John wiped his eyes. “There is no art without struggle,” he says. And you better believe that changes what you see through the lens of a camera.
2015. Gratitude. “I don’t know how long I’m gonna be on this planet, but I’m sure as hell not gonna spend it worrying about my 401k.” And maybe that’s what drives his ultimate long term goal – to help people. He admits his extroverted sense of empathy is exhausting. But for the photographer who gets most of his inspiration from music and paintings, there’s nothing he would rather do than use his skill set to help humanity. However his creativity can contribute, he’ll be there. The subject precedes the portrait.
John feels honed in on his style more than ever before, and would rather get to the real heart of the matter, you the person reading this, than spend his time trolling photo forums and bantering shop talk with other photographers. Professional gear is only as good as the instincts behind the gear and creative process, anyway.
“Each step has its own reward,” John says. But at the end of the creative process for each client, it’s the look on their faces, your faces, when you see your pictures. Like an audience after a magic trick. “That’s the ultimate reward.” And for this blue jean white tee photographer, that trumps fairy tales every single time.
Written by Ben Neumann