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FOCUS: Johan Persson

16 July 2020


© Johan Persson

AOP Member Johan Persson became interested in photography when training to become a ballet dancer. These intertwined passions have accumulated as a beautiful book titled Movement. We caught up with Johann to talk about his career but to also reflect on the effects the pandemic has has on the performing arts.


© Johan Persson


Can you remember what first prompted you to pick up a camera and what did you point it at?

Photography has a long tradition in my family with my grandfather, father and older brother all being amateur photographers. My first strong interest in photography started at age sixteen, when my mom bought me a beautiful Canon Eos camera with a 50mm lens. I instinctively began wandering the streets with my camera, and quickly fell in love with street photography. I then joined a photography course at the performing arts school I was attending at the time, and continued shooting the streets, but also branched out to shoot my fellow students in rehearsals and performances.



© Johan Persson


How has your style changed over time? Have your specialisms changed since you started out?

Though my love for photography was immediate, I was also training to become a ballet dancer and had been doing so for most of my life at that point, since the age of five. I was torn about which passion to pursue, but knew that photography was something that  could wait whilst dance relied on youth, and so I made the logical decision. However photography was ever present during my dance career, and I found I was turning the camera more and more to my fellow dancers and exploring performance photography. Without knowing it, I was preparing for my second career and I was very ready when it came.

Now after more than 15 years as a professional photographer, my career has of course widened and developed. Although the core of what I do is still in film and performing arts, I am also doing more studio based advertising and portraiture photography.



© Johan Persson


The current Spotlight exhibition 'Movement' is an accumulation of 12 years of shooting BTS, performances, rehearsals and so on, which has taken the form of a book. We'd love to hear more about the inspiration behind it and the locations you shot at.

I am lucky enough to work with some of the biggest performing arts companies in the UK. In fact my professional photography career started with The Royal Ballet and expanded from there. I think the initial seed of inspiration for this particular project came from my dance training as well as seeing how ballet was represented in images. I felt that something fundamental about dance was missing from the typical images I was seeing, and I wanted to explore how to communicate in a still image what is at the core of dance. I discovered that long exposure, double exposure,   camera movement and sometimes moving with my subject would help me capture what it was I felt was lacking, distilling an image whilst extending its time. The abstract images I was making can allow for more space to interpret the essence of what you are looking at.  As my career evolved from dance to cover opera, theatre and studio settings, I found that I also enjoyed this way of working in these disciplines.



© Johan Persson


Can you talk about the devastating effects of the pandemic on performing arts?

The pandemic has been devastating for the performing arts. Theatres closed in March and it isn't clear when they will be back.  Realistically they can't come back fully until there is a vaccine and anything that does come back before then will most likely be  compromised and at a financial loss. The exodus of talent and the loss  of expertise will result in the sector being depleted both financially and otherwise when it does come back. It is heartbreaking to witness,  especially here in the UK where the performing arts are such an  integral part of our culture. I can only hope there is some unforeseen  creative solution or the art form is capable of morphing into something else, or indeed a break through in finding a vaccine.



© Johan Persson


What activities have the AOP championed that have changed or impacted on the way you work or your personal career?

I first came across AOP when I was seeking help with a copyright grab situation more than eight years ago. The solicitor I saw at the time recommended AOP and I joined immediately. Having an association that  

champions the rights of photographers and our industry as a whole is so important and was something I definitely wanted to support and be a part of. Now more then ever, as we all go through this tough period,  the community and support network the AOP provides is invaluable and I am so thankful for the organisation.


View more work from Johan in Find

Visit Spotlight to view Johan's Movement project

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