Esther Johnson is an artist filmmaker and photographer who takes a poetic approach to documentary and narrative through moving image, audio and photography.
She studied for an MA at the Royal College of Art, London, and for a BA (Hons) at Royal Holloway, University of London. In 2008 she was nominated for the UK Northern Art Prize and in 2012 she won the Philip Leverhulme Prize for Visual & Performing Arts for young scholars.
In her work, Johnson unearths extraordinary, resonant stories that may otherwise remain hidden or ignored, often focusing on the underdog in contemporary culture. Recurring themes include personal histories, heritage, tradition, folklore, regeneration and precarious futures. Her films and photography explore architectural vernaculars and the inhabited environment, intimately conveying the uneasy relationship between her protagonists and their respective surroundings. Minutely composed and paced imagery is juxtaposed with soundscapes that mix voiceovers with field recordings.
Her films and photography have exhibited internationally in over 30 countries in galleries and art fairs including, BFI · Cornerhouse, Manchester · FACT, Liverpool · ICA, London · Science Museum, London · Site Gallery, Sheffield · Tate Britain · Tate Modern · Zoo Art Fair, London · Istanbul Biennial · Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro · Sotheby’s, New York · The National Art Center, Tokyo and Toronto Fashion Week. Screenings in cinemas, festivals and special events include, BFI London Film Festival · Raindance Film Festival, London · International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam · MadCat Film Festival, San Francisco and NASA, California. Her work has appeared on television, and in adapted versions for radio, and her writing has featured in arts publications.
Work is made for exhibition and cinema screening through individual projects, commissions and residencies. Support for her work includes: Arts Council England · BBC · The British Council · C3Ri · Film London · London Artists' Film and Video Award · National Endowment for the Arts · National Lottery · Screen Yorkshire · Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum · Skillset · Sound and Music and Yorkshire Arts.
HINTERLAND (2002) portrays a community living (literally) on the edge of Europe's fastest-eroding coastline. The plight of an historic East Yorkshire market is documented in A STREET NAMED HUMBER (2004). LENOX (also 2004) maps the psychogeography of one of Buffalo's oldest hotels, juxtaposing faded Art Deco with shabby retro Americana. PLAYBACK (2005) comprises an unique twenty-four-hour time-lapse through 360º of Sheffield landscape. TUNE IN (2006) reveals the fascinating, hidden world of Radio HAM operators and their overlooked but vital place in society. CELESTIAL (2007) draws upon a fascination with the vast canvas of the sky. YALDA (2007) is a dramatic and colourful journey into the narrative of a woman's tangled past. HIGHWAY HOME (2008) is a contemplative, static study of an unlikely landmark in an unlikely place. ELEVATION (2009) is an unique portrait of Park Hill estate, Europe's largest listed building, created during an eclipse period between clearance and reinvention. CLOSE UP (2010) an 18 x 25 metre photographic mosaic artwork, which includes around 2000 images of portraits of 500 Sheffield school children, commissioned by Sheffield Children's Festival. Another project completed in 2010 includes, ANALOGUE KINGDOM a documentary portrait on Gerald Wells and his wonderful museum of wireless radios and televisions.
In addition to her practice, Johnson curates film and video programmes, and is former Director and Curator of Hull Film and its Hull International Short Film Festival.
She is a Reader in Art & Design, and Principal Lecturer in Film and Media Production within Sheffield Institute of Arts at Sheffield Hallam University. Additional workshops have been delivered in Hull · London · Manchester · Sheffield · Bangkok, Thailand and Buffalo, New York.
Sound on Film: Five Questions for Esther Johnson