Doug Johnston shares the stories behind his studio's eye-catching photos
Beyond the Frame
As one can tell from our recent feature story with Doug Johnston, our team just adores the Brooklyn-based multitalent and his playful woven designs. From bags and baskets to less defined vessels, every Johnston piece possesses a singular sort of joie de vivre that we find irresistible. While getting to know him better for our feature, we were also charmed by the photography Johnston uses to promote his designs. Just like his woven objects, these photos—many shot by Johnston’s longtime collaborator, Michael Popp—are at once merry and lovely (at times a bit quirky even), and often appear, at least at first glance, as though they belong to some sort of modern day fairy tale.
We spoke with Johnston about these eye-catching images, and his ongoing relationship with photographer Michael Popp.
AC: The photo campaigns showcasing your work are really fun. Can you describe these a bit more for our readers—as well as the inspiration behind them?
DJ: Thanks! We do have a lot of fun making those, and it’s becoming a more important part of the studio. So far, all of [the photography series] have been to support the retail-focused side of our work, but they have become increasingly injected with our non-retail-focused ideas. They’re starting to have a life of their own, rather being support for other work.
AC: Do you always work with the same photographer?
DJ: All of them been done with photographer Michael Popp, who was one our studio mates [the pair shared a warehouse studio with other creatives in Kensington, Brooklyn]. . . The first few images kind of happened accidentally a few years ago. I had just finished making a huge pile of baskets and bags for the holidays, and we piled them up all around some of the larger pieces I had made, and it really captured my world at that time.
We did a few other shoots with Michael, but in December 2012 he was diagnosed with Leukemia and spent the next year in the hospital literally fighting for his life. He made an absolutely incredible recovery, and, by early 2014, he was starting to get back to photography—with a powerful and inspiring energy. Around that time we had been working to introduce our first set of limited edition pieces in colors of dyed cotton, and we wanted to make images that [connected] them to the liveliness of spring and summer. We created a series of sculptural bags that expressed playfulness, but also the idea of being out in the world, travelling and collecting.
Working through the ideas with Michael, he proposed a single image with all our pieces floating in the air [top image], and we made it happen in a single day. It was so fun to work on, and it was a particularly meaningful project for all of us.
Last fall we followed that up with another set of limited edition colors, and we made even more sculptural bags and objects to complement our standard offerings. Tomoe [Matsuoka, Johnston’s collaborator and wife] and I made a huge 2-hump wearable piece for ourselves, which stemmed from a sketch I had made 4 years earlier as a variation of my Rumpleskillskid piece. We wanted to do the shoot outside in a wooded setting, so we went upstate to a state park near where Michael grew up. That shoot was a lot more challenging since we didn’t have the level of control found in the studio.
AC: And can you tell us anything about your upcoming campaigns?
DJ: We’re starting to work on the next shoot now, and it looks like it will be outside again, but probably in a less natural location. It will feature even more sculptural bags and props. Overall, we’ve been trying to avoid doing a conventional “lookbook” type of presentation that focuses on a collection and instead present imagery that supports the work of the studio in general.
*All images courtesy of Doug Johnston.