Photographer/Stylist Phoenix Johnson
Photographer / Stylist
SS // Who are you and what do you do?
PJ // My name is Phoenix Johnson, I am a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York.
I am 23 years old and from Nashville, Tn.
SS // Your journey toward becoming a full-time photographer is super interesting. You actually started in styling for shoots - can you tell our readers how you got to where you are, today?
PJ // So, I started in high school, designing graphic t-shirts and hoodies that were all inspired by skate culture and the skaters I looked up to. Skateboarding is the reason I got into fashion. SO much of fashion is pulled from skateboarding.
During photoshoots for a street brand I started in 2013, I noticed I enjoyed the styling and production side of things more than anything else, so I wanted to try wardrobe styling. Soon after that moment, I moved out of the small town I grew up in and closer to the city (Nashville). I started styling local bands and building a portfolio for myself.
I ended up meeting Zac Farro, the drummer of Paramore. Started styling for them, which then changed everything for me. That was the first time I was working on projects on a large scale with complete creative freedom. The whole time I was taking photos for fun and didn't see it as a career. One day it switched. I lost interest in just styling, and wanted to have total control over an image or project.
SS // It seems you style most of your shoots yourself. Is it fun directing every element of the shoot?
PJ // For the most part yes, [styling and shooting] allows me to have most the control over how things look and feel. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, and a lot is going on in my head prior to shooting. But I have managed so far. I like to use the subject's own clothing most the time to keep things as real as possible.
SS // What was it like to move from Nashville to New York? What’s been the biggest difference that you’ve found?
PJ // The best thing I ever did. I love it here. Beautiful people, amazing architecture, every kind of food. What else can you ask for haha. Nashville is in the south so you don't see a lot of diversity. Here in NYC, you see every type of person on your way to the subway the second you step off your door step. Its very refreshing.
"We all decide our own path [...] I don't believe in LUCK in the sense that there was no work involved to getting there. Nobody else is intervening in your path to the “end,” is BASICALLY how I feel."
SS // How did growing up in Nashville impact you and your work?
PJ // I think Nashville is a great place, but for creatives its tough. Everything from finding interesting people to shoot, to architecture and how things look. Its just not all the way there yet. I think it was a great starting point.
SS // You specialize in intimate portraits. Are you selective about who and what you shoot? What do you think needs to be conveyed in more fashion industry shots?
PJ // I am pretty selective, I like collections of things. Right now I am working on a project where I photograph different girls all wearing the same t-shirt. (I cant say what it says yet. Stay tuned.)
SS // What are you trying to represent in your work?
PJ // I'm just representing the person in front of me the best I can.
SS // What are your thoughts on luck?
PJ // We all decide our own path. Everything is [happening at the] right place, right time. Wrong place, wrong time. So yes [I believe in luck] and no [I don't] haha. I don't believe in "luck" in the sense that there was no work involved in getting there. Nobody else is intervening in your path to the “end,” basically is how I feel.
SS // How do you think your style of portraiture can integrate with fashion culture / the overall scene?
PJ // I think the fashion world allows for anything to be “fashion,” especially nowadays. Which I think is cool. You could see an ad for Celine, with a photograph of a vegetable and you wouldn't be shocked. I am just creating things how I like them to look, and its been working out so far... I like my work (most days) and that's all I am really concerned about. Everything else is a bonus.
SS // What do you want your images to convey to people viewing them?
PJ // I don't seek out wanting to say a certain message with my images. I think art in any form should have a unique effect on each person that views it. I am pretty "in the moment" when I am taking photos, so things just happen how they do. I don't plan much.
SS // What content do you personally find intriguing? What stands out to you?
PJ // Anything that is genuine, I think its pretty easy to see through whats not.
SS // Is it stressful to be a freelance photographer?
PJ // Freelance anything is stressful haha. But It always works itself out.
SS // What type of music are you listening to right now.
PJ // Uhm recently just a lot of Radiohead. I get on kicks where I listen to the same music every day for a few months. Also Oasis and Rage Against the Machine.
SS // Who’s your dream subject to shoot?
PJ // Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and Vince Vaughn.
SS // What do you want to be known for?
PJ // Being genuine.
SS // What are your thoughts on the life/career path journey? Any advice to someone trying to figure out what the hell to do with their LIFE?
PJ // Growing up, my parents never told me what to do, I just was told to "make sure you pursue your passion in life." That is the best thing they ever did for me.
Whatever makes you happy, turn that into a job and let it pay your bills haha.