Thomas A. Johnsen

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Thomas Johnsen (b 1975) is a Norwegian photographer based in Cape Town. I
mostly photograph people in real life situations, exploring existential
questions around the body and political events.

“For me it’s always been an unfulfilled dream to work with visual arts and photography.” – Thomas Johnsen

View his photographs produced during this year, along with his year-end interview below:


When you started the programme what genre of photography were you interested in and has this shifted over the course of the year?

I have always been interested in documentary photography, and this commitment and interest have grown deeper during the course of the year.

Analogue (film) or Digital photography and why?

Digital for commercial work because it gives you higher quality, accuracy, and faster workflow. Film for personal work because I prefer the slow process, the organic grain texture and the special flow of light that is reproduced on the silver gelatin. Although I have reconciled myself with the usefulness of the scanner and Photoshop, I essentially prefer the handprinted look and the aspect of crafting it by hand.

What subject matter do you find yourself drawn to?

People in real life situations.

Pick three words/phrases that describe your approach to the medium?

Thoughtful presence, planning for chance to happen.

Why did you choose to study photography?

I started to photograph as a young teenager, borrowing my father old Konica SLR. This year I had the privilege of doing a sabbatical and studying photography full-time. To work with visual arts and photography was always a dream. The fields of philosophy and administration is deeply dependent on the ever more visual world. Therefore, being able to read and use visuals properly was crucial for me in order to forge a new career as a professional photographer.

What has been the most noteworthy shoot/project you have done this year?

I’ve done a 24-hour documentary project; first setting up a strict framework for myself, and then let chance play out, creating only one image for each push of the button for every hour for 24 hours nonstop.

Who is your biggest photographic influence at the moment and how? /why?

I love perceived inconsistency so I’m not stuck with one photographer. For the time being, I’m drawn to the work of Charles Marville to Dave Southwood.

What has been your biggest misconception about photography as a practice?

That it’s all about photographic quality! It’s just as much about fashion, word of mouth, and your ability to insist on the importance of your own work.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned on the course?

The creative process, sourcing references and rethinking the obvious, but most of all I have learned to think less.

What creative advice would you give to anyone seriously considering applying for the course?

Be clear of what your goal is. If you plan to do this half-heartedly, rather do something else. The world doesn’t have a shortage of photographs. If you’re going to do this, you have to be the best version of yourself.