Art Producers Speak: Johann Wall

- - Art Producers Speak

We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email:

Anonymous Art Buyer: I nominate Johann Wall. We use him all the time. He takes amazing photos of people and I love the way he always captures a person’s essence.

This is a portrait of the author Esi Edugyan. I like windows, cars, mirrors. Peaceful introspective moments.

I felt I needed to get some fishing pictures one day so I went salmon fishing with Patrick very early one morning. This is when the fog is burning off.

This was in Berlin. Again my love of mirrors and quiet moments.

This is Leeroy Stagger. We were photographing his press and record pictures. You sometimes have to go all over the province in your van just to get a great picture in your van.

A story about students at a particular school. I felt like this was the way to bring out this scene with vibrant colour and contrast.

This was the first campaign that I felt really utilized my way of seeing things and directing groups

Family landscape in Bulgaria. I rented an apartment there for a few months one year as I had fenced with a Bulgarian from Sofia in university.

The Hotel Vancouver. I often take people somewhere and just wander around seeing what we can come up with.

A cyclist in Sugoi.

One of my old favourites while working on a documentary film about exotic dancers.

West Coast of Vancouver Island, Okanagan Spring Beer!!

How many years have you been in business?

It must be coming up around 15 years now since I was consciously taking photographs that I wanted to show. More like 10 in a sort of commercial/editorial professional sense though.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

Both. I learned how to develop in the darkroom at the University of Victoria where I was enrolled in the writing program. A friend slipped me into the photojournalism lab and showed me the process.

When I moved to Liverpool, I was supposed to photograph the Manic Street Preachers for a little magazine so I went to the library to learn how to take photographs in the dark. Push processing! We set up a darkroom in the closet to develop.

The following year I received a grant to attend photo school for a year. I loved it, being able to learn, make friends and try out things without any concern other than photography. I assisted in London for a while as well as in Vancouver on gallery shoots. I liked London the best as I worked with a woman who shot country Vogue style advertising stories so we’d stay in castles and remote estates. She used almost exclusively modified natural light so there were a lot of massive reflectors and diffusers.

I’m glad I studied and assisted because I gained a real technical knowledge and understanding of creating and modifying light. I don’t usually use much equipment but I’m glad I know how to use it if necessary.

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?

I think my greatest influence was Wolfgang Tillmans’ first book. It’s a wonderful collection of photographs.

How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?

I don’t know if I’m pushing the envelope! I just like making as beautiful a photograph as I can.

I like to think of all my work as one multilayered story which I keep adding to. I have a consistent aesthetic to my imagery and I am very happy that I’ve found that. I guess by creating new photographs I am keeping my work fresh. I don’t really like terms like pushing the envelope.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?

I think people all respond to the storyline aspect of my photography. So they would expect me to create a story and usually that means I am instructed to do whatever it is I do to make that happen. I’ve been on tripods tethered a few times photographing group scenes where I’d normally be moving around amongst the talent whispering the odd instruction in their ears. So that was sort of limiting, as I couldn’t be right in the scene. I think that was the creative’s tethering me though, not the client.

I’ve been sent out on my own a lot, even on commercial jobs, to just bring back great pictures.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?

I send out some postcards now and then. If I’m in the right mood I’ll make up unique packages for people I like at magazines or agencies. I’ve always loved post and letters.

I do some email newsletters but I haven’t quite gotten used to that so they are not on much of a schedule. I get good interest when I do send them though!

Magazines are great.

Work with people who love Instagramming so you don’t have to spread the news yourself.

I sometimes have no idea how people hear about me though. I’ll get a call from a Zurich newspaper out of nowhere to shoot a story and wonder how that happened.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?

I think everyone shows work they think people want to see. Whether a buyer wants to see it, you will never know until you show it to them. I don’t know what people want to see, and how can you?

My first website had 14 pictures on it and almost all of them were blurred because I really liked that look then. I got a national magazine cover and the photo editor said, “ Johann, we really love your pictures but would you mind not blurring this portrait?”

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?

Of course.

How often are you shooting new work?

I do try and photograph people as much as I can but I’m not someone that photographs everything they see. I like to have moments to think and then I do other things and then I’ll decide to make some new pictures. I like limiting my image making. I am creating new work in my mind a lot though.

Johann Wall is a Canadian photographer based in Vancouver.
Phone: 604 725 8865
Email :

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information.  Follow her@SuzanneSease.

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