Simen Johan first gained recognition in the early 1990s for his uncanny images of children in which he digitally recombined fragments of faces and bodies (including his own) into new characters. Through a unique combination of early digital manipulation and traditional darkroom techniques he pushed the boundaries of the photographic medium beyond what was then considered possible. He has since developed a hybrid form of image-making, integrating candidly-photographed animals and landscapes with a compositional structuring and conceptual intent typically associated with painting or cinema.
Moving to New York in 1992, Johan initially studied film at the School of Visual Arts before switching to photography. He found early inspiration in the works of directors such as Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg and David Lynch, whose movies 'transported [him] to suspenseful, strange and psychologically-charged places that didn’t merely entertain, but also revealed complex truths about life, people and the world'. A cinematic sensibility remains apparent in Johan’s still images, where dramatic tension, atmosphere and symbolism communicate meaning.
Johan travels near and far to photograph his source material, and can find inspiration anywhere from the local zoo to the jungles of Costa Rica or the lava fields of Iceland. He then spends countless hours assembling his images captured in these far flung locations into a unifying whole. The result is an often-unsettling sense of placelessness.
In his images, we see pigeons flocking toward light like moths (or angels); a zebra camouflaged by geographically incongruent palms; a foreboding cave entrance (uncertainty), transformed into a bright opening (enlightenment), when the image is inverted to its negative.
Each image reveals poetic and often unexpected relationships that speak to the illusory and multifaceted nature of existence. Tensions between what is revealed and what is concealed, what is alluring and what is menacing, what is fact and what is fiction, both shape and unsettle the scenes. These amalgamations of sentiments, creatures, and environments are printed near lifesize to more faithfully represent the scale of natural vision.
Johan was born in Kirkenes, Norway in 1973 and was raised in southern Sweden. He currently lives and works in New York.