Image shows a studio wall filled with darkroom printed contact sheets. They are crowded together, overlapping other pages. All the images on the contact sheets are in colour, lots of bright reds and blues being the most prominent.

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Process is significantly crucial to Samantha’s practice. The mediating process of setting up a staged set or any shoot, from lighting right through to staging the object. To taking the shots and unloading the film to hand process. To hand printing and finally progressing the work to further pieces or organising them into sequences. Fascinated by the medium of film itself, how it is made, how it works, how we use it to explain or create art, she brings this into her photography practice. Turning her focus to cinema and relishing in the works of cinema from the works of Alfred Hitchcock, John Cassavetes, Roberto Rossellini and Andrei Tarkovsky. A body of work could last years. All work is shot analogue and developed in her own studio in London. “Something takes over when you are in the darkroom, it becomes your safe place. It is these moments in the darkroom that I really love, there is something very comforting about walking into a darkroom and seeing your enlarger and smelling the chemicals.”


How are you adapting your work during the pandemic?

Fortunately I develop all my film & and print my work in my studio in London. It’s a small space, but it fits my enlarger, work desk and my books. I was determined to not let the pandemic change my workflow. I have been incredibly lucky to have a space I can cycle to and close myself off for a few hours. At the same time, it is hard to be in the same mindset as before the pandemic. During the first lockdown I realised my finances were not great as I no longer had a steady income. This forced me to start putting my work out there and begin selling.

How are you finding online life?

This is something that I have been struggling with so much. Viewers online can only see a small image on a screen and are not able to see the physical print. Creating work traditionally in analogue formats is a lot of work. From prop sourcing, setting up the scenes, figuring out the lighting, to then developing the film and hand printing. Printing itself can take and has taken me up to 8 hours a day to do. Don’t forget the mounting and framing afterwards too! After all that, you realise, how do I get this online? I scan my prints rather than scanning the negative for online. I always hand print 10x12 inch prints especially for scanning and for portfolio. Then I have set sizes that people can purchase. With hand printing you are restricted to sizes, which I have come to realise isn’t a bad thing! For me the scans of a negative differ largely to a scan of the final hand print. If someone see’s a negative I scanned online and then asked for a print, I would be nervous as the final print would differ from the scanned negative. I find if you don’t keep viewers up to date regularly they lose interest in your work, they constantly need to see more and more and it is very tiring to keep up. It takes time to create work and I feel people are no longer patient to wait. I have also been finding it difficult to find time to truly step back and research. The constant need to make is overwhelming to keep up with the social media and online demand of work to keep oneself online.

Are there any working methods that you envisage keeping once the lockdown is over?

During lockdown I decided to go back to the beginning and reread traditional books relating to photographic lighting, photographic printing and how the negative works. I already knew the basics but now I really want to know the mechanics and science of how it all works as well as the artistic means. I come from a painting background so everything I learnt was self-taught. I have always worked strongly with tungsten lighting, but I want to bring in subtle controlled lighting involving flash to my scenes. I want to be able to fine tune nearly everything in the set up and the negative rather than fixing in the final print. Being able to use this time to really know the science behind photography has been important to how I see myself progressing in my practice.

How are you procrastinating or distracting yourself from any stress?

This is hard, I see my practice as part of my life, there is no separation. It sounds cliché but everything I do comes into my practice, especially literature and films, it all feeds into my work, even coffee! For me to truly get away is to be by the sea, which I haven’t been able to do in over a year due to lockdown. I am feeling clogged and overloaded at the moment. Though I have created a sanctuary at home where I am truly lucky to fill the walls with photographic prints and art from artists that I absolutely love. I can just step into the hall or bathroom for a breather and admire the work. Other moments where I am distracted is cycling in London, but only because it is too risky to think of anything else but staying on the bicycle.


See more from Samantha on her website and social media @samanthajohnstonstudio


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