The Path Of Ann Johansson; A Life Dedicated To Recording Humanity

Rain clouds hang over the ocean off the coast of Samoa, September 2004.
All Photos © 2004, Ann Johansson, All Rights Reserved

Fifteen years ago Ann Johansson left Gothenburg, Sweden, and came to America. She was looking for "sunshine" but she may just have found the end of the rainbow. For seven years her real-life job was waitressing in Los Angeles. Her hobby was taking pictures.

"It took me a while to realize you could actually make a living here having a crazy job like being a photographer," Johansson says. "That would never have occurred to me living in Sweden."

Johansson took a chance. Beginning as a photo assistant in California she learned lighting techniques, met art directors, artists, and other photographers. "I realized, after shooting products for a short time, that my interests lay in social and political issues, not in food and product shooting. I decided I wanted to be a photojournalist.

"One day I read a story about UN photographer John Isaac. The UN--yes--that is what I wanted to do! I wrote a letter to John and he kindly wrote back. Then I sent him a Thank You note with one of my photographs attached. Phone calls followed and the next thing I knew he offered me an assignment to accompany him on a four-month around-the-world tour with Michael Jackson. He needed an assistant who could handle the lighting.

"Prague, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Moscow, Spain, Tunisia, Asia, and Australia--we shot over 40 Michael Jackson concerts as well as places that Michael visited such as orphanages and record stores or meetings with local dignitaries. My job was to set up the lights. Michael had specific requirements about the lighting. It was to be nice, flat, and even. Using just strobes and light boxes, the shoots went smoothly.

"Just being around John Isaac, watching him work and on rare occasion having the opportunity to go out on our own and shoot things like a slum in Manila got me started in photojournalism."

Johansson saved up her pennies and soon was off to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. She spent four months photographing and upon her return put together a portfolio of her photographs. Soon she met an editor at the Los Angeles Times who agreed to review her work. The editor advised Johansson that her portfolio was lacking material she would need to present to her boss at the Times. For the next month Johansson raced around looking for events that she could shoot to complete her body of work for newspaper purposes, including everything from sports and food to a gay rodeo in L.A. It was her start. She was "in."

Logan James, 2, plays on the shoulders of his father Uven, on the tundra on Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska, October 2004.

"That's what it's all about," Johansson says, "getting to meet people, asking questions, and listening to the answers."

A few years ago she traveled to the Palestinian Territories on her own, and returned there in the fall of 2001. The Iraqi war had begun as had the Intifada forums. During that visit she did some work for the Los Angeles Times.

"I was deeply affected," Johansson says, "and I wanted to photograph something different than the same old shots we saw in so many newspapers and magazines of Palestinian boys throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. I wanted to show what life was like in the heart of the old city of Hebron where people were living under complete curfew and could not go to school, to work, or to the market. I lived with a Palestinian family while I was there.

Palestinians take part in a demonstration against the occupation of Palestinian Territories and the war against Iraq in Ramallah, The West Bank, March 21, 2003.

"When I returned the second time that family no longer lived there but the people in the same house invited me to stay with them. Shortly after being there I was invited to a family wedding. Unlike the usual tradition of dress, the bride wore a beautiful white wedding gown and the women were seen stylishly dressed and coiffed. I took photographs but agreed that I would not have them printed since the women were not in their usual covering garments."