Shamus Johnson, founder of Shamus Photography, is one of those kinds of people who’s always got another artistic endeavor conceptualizing in their head and is always eager to start the next project. Shamus has a long and storied history behind him, including serving as Navy photographer in the Vietnam war and spending a large part of his 20’s in Japan, two experiences that have definitely shaped his personality as a photographer.
Shamus answered some of our questions about his photography.
Hi Shamus, what made you pursue a career in photography?
I started in high school because I thought it would be an easy class. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher who loved what he did. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. I was a creative and suddenly found this to be a perfect outlet. I wanted to be a painter but didn’t have the necessary skills it took. Photography was a perfect substitute. After high school, I became a Navy photographer during the Vietnam war, and photography’s been a part of me ever since. The biggest influence on my aesthetic outlook on my photography has been my years spent in Japan. I was there for 7 years in my 20s and my philosophy of art is based on many of the principles found in Japanese art. Especially, sumi-e painting and the concept of wabi-sabi, which is very difficult to translate into English. Sumi-e is black ink painting with a brush. It uses the fewest brush strokes possible and gets its power from the empty white space.
Below are some examples of sumi-e influenced photos, which he refers to as Black and White with Color:
What kind of equipment do you use?
I use a variety of equipment, from SLRs to mirrorless cameras, all the way to drones and occasionally my iPhone. I started with Nikons long ago and have stayed with them due to the cost of switching over to something new. I have several DSLR’s. My go-to is my Nikon D-800. I also have a Canon M-50, which is mirrorless. I love this for my street photography because it has a silent shutter option and a Bluetooth remote using my phone. It also has 4k video. I have two DJI drones that I originally started using for real estate photography. I use them for my personal photography now. And I sometimes end up using my iPhone 11 max pro when I’m out and about without my other gear. I’m very impressed with the advances in cell phone cameras.
What are some of your favorite subjects to photograph? Are there any you dream of shooting one day?
Mainly, people in their natural environments doing everyday things – but caught at a moment of expressing some human emotion. But it usually depends on what I run across when out shooting. I never plan my shoots. I like to discover things. When I go out to shoot, my photographer’s eye is open, and I always find something of interest. It’s important that my eye is open because it’s a different way of seeing the world.
I think what I dream of is creating a corpus of work that can be viewed as a whole in which each photograph causes the viewer to feel something immediately without thinking but then makes them think as a secondary result of viewing the photograph. I think I strive to shoot the type of photograph that becomes iconic in some way and will stand the test of time, rise above what is trendy and temporal.
What are some of your proudest achievements thus far?
I get the most satisfaction, I think, from watching someone who is deeply moved by or enjoying one of my photographs. Because, even though, the act of photographing something can be seen as a private pursuit, in the end, it’s a form of communication that needs to be shared. Winning awards is not as important to me.
What is your process for taking photos and how long does it take you before you head home?
Most of the time I go out with the idea that I will be photographing something. But I won’t necessarily know what that is. I believe that with my kind of photography, you stumble on opportunities. And that makes it exciting. I almost always find something. And if I get 3 keepers out of 100 shots, I’m happy. The conceptual aspect of what I do usually comes after, during the processing stage.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do conceptual fine art photography?
I would encourage them to find a voice that is unique. This will take a lot of time and a lot of experimenting. When you find it, you can develop something that is stamped with your signature, where everyone knows that it is a photograph by you, without looking for the written signature. Very few photographers achieve that. It’s easier for painters, but difficult in photography. And remember that your creativity will never dry up if you stay active.