Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Aisha Johnson

LUCIUS: How are you doing? How is the year going for you thus far?
AISHA: I’m doing well I think. This year has been up and down for a lot of reasons but for right now it seems to be on an upswing.

LUCIUS: What are your goals as a photographer in this year and the next?
AISHA: I’ve been working this year to really develop my style and now I’m just producing more and more work. I can finally see a direction in my images so I’m working on making my work is consistent in aesthetic and quality.

LUCIUS: As an artist, what is your favorite piece in regards to your portfolio?
AISHA: I’m not sure. Every time I shoot I have a new favorite. But then I look back at old work with a more developed eye and I always see something I’m proud of that I had previously ignored. That’s a tough one. 

LUCIUS: Conversely, is there a least favorite photo that you've taken?
AISHA: Every photographer has least favorites. That’s why we snap about 100 times to get one single image. And why you can never have all of them. 

LUCIUS: Who (or what) first got you interested in photography?
AISHA: I think I have always been interested in photographs, but didn’t really consider taking them. But even as a child I loved to look at them. I started helping out with friends’ shoots, and then I realized I could do the shoot myself. So I just tried it. So far, so good.

LUCIUS: Tell me what makes your contributions to your craft that much more unique?
AISHA: For starters, I’m only trying to please myself. My goal has never been to be THE best, but to always beat my personal best. I think very hard about what image I’m trying to create and how I can do that. I look around the internet for images that are similar to what I have in mind. I do location scouting, create a budget and then find a subject. I suppose every serious photographer does this on some scale, but for me it has been about finding the right aesthetic. I love the old gritty images of baby hip hop from the 80s and I like to bring that candor and edge to my work. Also, in just about every image you can find me. Something that belongs to me or something I did.

LUCIUS: We have known each other for a while. I ask for the sake of the interview: why Hong Kong?
AISHA: That’s easy. My school has a campus here. I decided at the last minute to do a single term in HK. Within a few weeks, I knew this was my new home. I loved the pace of the city, the anonymity, and the opportunities that presented themselves. I had accomplished more in HK than I had been able to in three years in Atlanta so I took a chance. Once I started making friends and meeting potential employers, I started planning.

LUCIUS: How has the change of scenery added or taken away from your inspiration as well as your craft?
AISHA: I just feel free and independent here. That gave me the confidence to really try what I had in mind instead of just continuing to think about it with no action. My first real dive into HK life was quite literal. I wasn’t getting along with the people I came with and a new group of people I met invited me to go cliff diving. I had such a great time with new people and beautiful surroundings that I decided that I NEEDED to see everything I could. It felt like the possibilities had no conditions. I stayed to test my theory.

LUCIUS: Tell us briefly what you're working on right now.
AISHA: I have a few projects, some I can’t tell you about (laughs). I have been shooting a documentary that is based on my interaction with the rise of hip hop here in HK. I have met a LOT of people that way. I have a background in PR/Communications/Marketing so a lot of the people I have met need those services so I’m working on putting that together as a legitimate side business. Right now I can’t legally work here but when I graduate in a few months everything will be in place. I also shoot portraits which have been published around southeast Asia and I’ve been shooting nudes. I have a surf series on hold, and a graffiti series that I shoot when I need a break from people.

LUCIUS: You have been telling me a bit about the hip-hop scene in Hong Kong as of late. What even got you interested in that?
AISHA: I think I was born interested in hip hop. Once I got settled in here, I felt pretty alienated even though I had made some friends. One night, I ended up at a club that was spinning a bunch of music from 1992-2002 and I went crazy. It had been a while since I’ve been to a hip hop party with an actual MC. I met DJ Bravo and MC Ekorb that night and told them I was a photographer and asked if I could shoot their portraits. Portraiture is what really got me into photography, but catching up with DJ from that night proved to be a pain. His schedule was insane and he was really intense. I’m not easily intimidated but I was a bit daunted. Anyway, I followed him around for two months. Not in a stalker way, but hitting up his sets at different clubs. Seeing him spin every night at different places was such a grind. I was tired just following him. But every set was consistent and every crowd was feeling him. How can you not respect that? Anyway, I got the idea to follow him around and record the insanity that was his life. But then my idea grew because there were a lot of people around on this same grind chasing this same dream of bringing good hip hop to HK.

LUCIUS: What is your description or impressions of that scene musically?
AISHA: It’s still developing. Many things about HK are traditional so hip hop is very much so still a subculture. You have your expats trying to bring Top 40 over, and then you have the underground rap cats that are fighting for a real scene. You can’t really breakdance in a club here. And it’s frustrating for a club to advertise a “hip hop” night, when an EDM DJ switches to EDM at 12. It’s false advertising. I always hear “but that’s what the crowd wants.” I feel like the crowd only knows what YOU tell them to be hip hop. As a DJ, you have the power to change what they are listening to, but you have the DUTY to introduce new music. Otherwise, put DJ iPod on the 1s and 2s.

Anyway, I love the locals. The locals are the realest fans of hip hop I have run into in a long time. They study up on old school EVERYTHING. They watch old videos, and read books. I thought I was researching, but these kids have put me on to some new information. And I am talking about all four tenets of hip hop. The DJing is universal, and graffiti and bboying is visual so it’s easy to comprehend but what really made me understand the depth of THEIR feelings about hip hop is their MCing. I don’t know what they are saying but that’s the beautiful thing about good music. You can feel it even if the words don’t make sense to you.

LUCIUS: Who have you met in the Hong Kong hip-hop culture doing your photography?
AISHA: Oh man. I have met some amazing people. Is this where I get to do shout outs? OK...

MC Ekorb, DJ Don Martinez, MC Loki Dolo, The Groove Thief, DJ Bravo, DJ Anil, DJ Seth, DJ XLarge, DJ Yeodie, DK Hokuto, DJ, Ta-Shi, DJ Derek, DH Gruv, DJ Professor P,  DJ C, Eve Speciall, DJ Enso, DJ Yao, Work It, Superhero DJs, ChinkyBlakk,  Mistah Khaki, Heyo, Uni Corn, Samee Sam, Edd Lo, DustyRoc and the while E.O.P camp, CathLove, and that’s just the hip hop cats. There are other people who have been SUPER helpful in my path. Chester at Fly, Bhoj at Volar, Ravi at Likuid, Glecy at Taz all for letting me shoot in their venues. Francis R. for being supportive and giving me direction when I had begun to lose my way. I have special stories about each person I mentioned. Some aren’t so deep, but some people are so close to my heart. I don’t even know how to explain what they mean to me without getting mushy. (laughs).

LUCIUS: Anyone who you'd like to work with in Hong Kong or here?
AISHA: My work isn’t just about setting up and taking a snap. It’s about genuinely getting to know my subject, even if I only have 10 minutes to do it. Yea, everybody else calls it building rapport, but I really like to sew the seeds for a potential friendship. Of course not every wants to be friends, but I like good people and I believe in the importance of have good people around you. So to answer your question, no, there isn’t anyone in particular that I want to work with. My work is about interaction so it would have to be organic. If they become a part of my life, then they will become a part of my photography.

LUCIUS: What do you plan to apply your amazing talents on career wise?
AISHA: Like I said, I have a background in PR and even though it hasn’t made sense to anyone besides me thus far, my photography has allowed me to create a unique niche for myself. I have a small market of people who need my particular set of skills so I plan to market myself accordingly.

LUCIUS: Who is the biggest inspiration?
AISHA: Depends. If you mean aesthetically, then I would have to say old images and video from early hip hop. If your mean approach then I’m a huge fan of Joe Conzo, Mike Schrieber, Roy DeCarava, and Teenie "One Shot" Harris. As far as business, I can’t tell you who my influences are because then you would know my next steps. Best way to keep the negativity off you is to keep it where it belongs-in the dark.

LUCIUS: Switching gears for a second, are there any artists stateside who you'd love to work with and/or photograph?
AISHA: I don’t really think of it in terms of being a fan and wanting to take an image. I just kind of do my thing and if I cross paths with someone with good energy, talent, and an interesting look, I want to shoot. This has nothing to do with styling or how well their mixtape is engineered, but how much passion I can see in their eyes. So no, no one in particular. I’m not seeking the Hollywood glitz and glam. I am genuinely interested in the best representatives of the culture at large and, in most cases, those people are not the names in lights.

LUCIUS: Is there anywhere where we can take a peek at your portfolio and some of your work?
AISHA: So far, I have kept the majority of my work off line. Im a perfectionist and even though I have what I would consider perfect pieces, I have yet to complete a body of work that I consider perfect so I’m always hesitant to put my portfolio online. So I guess the short answer is no. I usually show potential clients my work in person. I know I may miss a lot of clientele that way, but my work speaks for itself. I prefer to be exclusive anyway. I don’t shoot everything or everyone just because they are paying. I guess some of my work can be seen on a new webzine that will be out later this year. The site itself isn’t up but you can like the facebook page until the actual site is launched. It’s for and by the HK hip hop community and features the four tenets of hip hop, plus history/knowledge and lifestyle. I’ve been doing some shooting for them. I do plan to put together a personal site before the end of the year.

LUCIUS: How can people keep up with you and all the good things you will be doing in the future?
AISHA: I have a Twitter account: @RunMoonRun. That’s it. No Instagram. None of that other stuff. My FB page is private. I’m active on my Twitter page. I like to talk to people so if you add me, shout me out. If you add me and I never hear from you again, when I do my periodic clean up… you know what will happen.(laughs). I’m pretty sure by now I sound like the artist cliché, cryptic and secretive. That’s not it at all. My work is my child. I protect it and only let it be seen looking it’s best. I only say good things about it even when I know it has some growing to do. You can hear about that growth through my tweets, and as I grow as a person my work catches up. Can’t wait to put the link out.

written by Lucius Black for Royalty Magazine

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