January 2020

Zooming In

30 Photos by Phil Johnson

Artist’s Statement

Occasionally I take a medium-range or long-range shot that I like. But mostly the originality in my photos comes when—starting with an undifferentiated visual field—I move in for a close-up and frame it to create a composition that focuses on pattern.

Essentially I abstract the form from its context.

If I get some reflections that add a layer or two to the pattern, that’s gravy.

I take photographs because I like the image I see in the moment. But I’m also curious to see if the version in the camera comes out the way I saw it or if it surprises me in some unexpected way which turns out to be more interesting than my original take.

Many of the photo subjects I choose are triggered by my bizarre sense of humor which springs from the sense that there is a big streak of absurdity running through life and human society. Maybe living on earth does make sense on a large scale, maybe the meaning I search for is really there; or maybe not, maybe a life is just a shot in the dark.

These photos were taken in New York City and Brooklyn, NY; Great Barrington, Williamstown, and North Adams, MA; Los Angeles, Berkeley, and San Jose, CA; and Minneapolis, MN.  All rights reserved © 2020 Philip Johnson

Thanks to Colomba Johnson for reviewing my photos in the final selection stage, and to Calder Lowe for offering the Dragonfly Press space for this exhibit. And to Geoff Young, Karen Skelton, and Liz Thompson for ongoing feedback and encouragement with my work.

Phil Johnson


 “Rich photos that move towards abstraction; I really like these!”

— Jeff Alan West, painter, photographer, and graphic designer

“Phil Johnson stops, looks, listens.  What he sees—reflections, layered light, color, random surfaces, abstract arrays, stuff, the nothing that is not there, and the ephemeral substance of moments that are—makes for compelling viewing.  His photos level the playing field; each shot may stand alone, but each shot argues for the continuity of a world, the precise value of each perception.” 

— Geoff Young, poet, small press publisher, artist, gallerist

“Your eye is extraordinary.  With some images I think ‘You hadda be there’— just as some jazz is only great in live performance.  But in your images there’s such variety, so many jump-out-at-you surprises.  And others are so subtle.”

— Jon Quitslund, professor emeritus, literature, George Washington University

“The photos show what interests you, your psychology, your taste in color, your sense for what is timely, your awareness of social undercurrents either evident or about to burst forward (or no longer topical or popular). Your photos show the angst and outrageous humor of the everyday, unpaid art expression of street people or shop keepers in America. Your photos show your amusement with warnings, cautions, instructions meant, as it were, for no one. Your photos show you are interested in architecture, light and shade, reflections, unintended results, colors in combination.” 

— Steven M Johnson, invention-themed cartoonist, whimsicalist, and possibilist