Fiercely independent, Tom Johnson left school at 17 and dropped out of college, before setting up his own studio and carving out a career in fashion photography
“I’m quite dyslexic and dyspraxic. I can’t draw either,” says 25-year-old British photographer Tom Johnson, originally from the village of Clanfield in Oxfordshire. “Learning in traditional ways has never been my strong point, so I use the camera as a tool to learn about people and the world.”
Johnson left school at 17 and started his photographic career shooting local gigs before moving to London, where he assisted a number of fashion photographers. When he answered a call on Twitter for an assistant, he found himself working with Jim Goldberg and Alessandra Sanguinetti on Magnum Photos’ Postcards from America. A short stint at the London College of Communication followed (he left after two terms), but it was when he opened a studio in east London that his steady rise began.
Johnson’s photography is about people. Working in documentary, fashion and portraiture – and often fusing all three – his images are clearly informed by an innate sensitivity towards and respect for his subjects. He is keen to draw on these qualities in his commissioned work, while not being afraid of subtle intervention.
“I think I found a way to create situations and environments, which you can’t really do in documentary,” he says. “It’s about bringing the same sense of exploration you have in documentary and staging it a little. What I really want to do with fashion is to try and tell people’s stories.”
Johnson, who has shot editorials for influential titles such as AnOther, SSAW, Buffalo Zine and Man About Town, as well as campaigns for Opening Ceremony and Faye Toogood, has just been taken on by Mini Title, the agency that also represents Jack Davison (Ones To Watch, 2014). Mini Title founder Chris McGuigan came across Johnson through The Evans Girls series – which BJP published in our May 2016 issue, and a picture from which appeared in BJP’s Portrait of Britain exhibition last autumn.
“I kept on looking at his work and it kept getting better,” says McGuigan. “He’s very good at doing upbeat and fun, which is a rare quality, especially for a British photographer.”
Signing on to the agency was the start of what looks like a charmed period in Johnson’s career. His latest work has taken him to the US, where, after completing three Vogue commissions in New York, he will begin a project looking at the personal relationship between two 48-year-old Polish hand balancers. The duo have been paired together since they were eight years old and are now part of a US-based circus group.