Sarah Anne Johnson
In her exploration of reality, Sarah Anne Johnson amplifies and shifts the documentary effects of photography by interfering in the medium. She integrates into her images a variety of artifices, using techniques ranging from diorama to Photoshop and painting, thus adding to the initial pictures a long process of re-creation of their content. Like alterations of the pure image, the artist’s manual work somehow critiques the utopia of objective information. She works at the intersection of reality and perception. In this sense, she does not limit landscape to its material composition but integrates emotional and physical aspects as well. Her manipulations evoke the sensitive node that acts under the surface of the image; they also articulate the relational issues, complex and invisible, between humans and their environments and communities.
Johnson borrows from the documentary stance a sense of narrative, which she diverts from its journalistic functions to a more intimate approach. In Tree Planting (2005), for example, she integrates sculpted figurines into a series that is almost completely in the straight photography tradition, in order to connect raw exposure to the real with her own memories. The narratives that she constructs and displays mix with our interpretation of the Canadian North to compose a human and natural landscape that is more sincere than idealized. Johnson’s interventions are sometimes more apparent, as in the series Arctic Wonderland (2011), in which she literally transforms the images. She engraves, paints on, cuts out, and retouches the prints to transcend the generic image and convey the ecological and sensory issues of the sites. With these additions, subtractions, and constructions, Johnson’s images fill the chasm between vision and emotion, achieving a more authentic perception of the environment.
Johnson’s practice addresses the image and its content in a plural, even experimental way, generating a new type of documentation that is eminently personal and true. Her sharp awareness of the photographer’s gaze at places, things, and people confers universal value on intimate expression. In the end, this manifest subjectivity may be the fairest form of objectivity.
[Translated from the French by Käthe Roth]