Getting Lost: Photographs from Jonathan Johnson’s Low Season and Green Country
I wrote an article for the Rethinking Marxism journal (Volume 30, Issue 4) that explores and describes Jonathan Johnson’s photographs. I’ve known Jon and his work for several years, and I relished the chance to organize some thoughts on both the images and his process of making them. Jon also helped me with the Shawnee, Ohio project, as a videographer. You can find the article here.
This essay explores Jonathan Johnson’s recent photographic works in Thailand and Costa Rica, where he uses methods of walking and getting lost to critically address productivism and the speed and consumption of digital culture. Richly contextual, the images explore themes of urban and rural landscapes, absence and presence, and in-betweenness. Throughout, Johnson draws from his experiences of moving between cultures, places, and his Thai and American heritage.
When photographer Jonathan Johnson sets out walking in rural and urban environments, he intends to get lost. In two recent photographic series, “Low Season” and “Green Country,” Johnson moves through Thailand and Costa Rica, simultaneously conveying senses of place and the strangeness of being a part of and apart from these places. Born in Minnesota, living and working in Ohio, and with mixed Thai and European-American heritage, Johnson’s deliberate act of walking to get lost parallels his own status as both local and visitor, suspended between cultures and geographies.
For Johnson, getting lost is the literal act of finding oneself in unfamiliar places, and a process of slowing down. This purposeful disorientation removes him from––and critically addresses––the speed and consumption of digital culture and social media. His practice becomes an act of contemplation, not only of place but also of his own history as seen from new perspectives. According to Johnson, slowing down is a critique against “productivism,” against the seemingly endless generation of content and commodities, against the idea of more and more as always better. It is an experience of time and place on a human scale.