Interview | Glasgow Based Photographer Robin Johnston

Q: Robin you're an urban photographer based in Glasgow, please tell us a little about you

I was born in Glasgow but grew up in Perthshire. My parents were both art teachers, so I was encouraged to be creative and follow my own creative interests - namely photography and film making. I took an HND in video production in my early twenties and went on to take a BA in film and photography. Then for the most part I stopped and it wasn't until 2008 that I picked up a camera again. Since then I've had work exhibited in a number of galleries, including the SSA annual exhibition in Edinburgh, the RGI in Glasgow and a solo street photography exhibition at the Hidden Gallery Glasgow last year.

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Q: Why do you do urban photography?

I think it's a way to express myself, a creative outlet. So, I started using my phone camera to take pictures, first in France, where my parents then lived, and eventually Glasgow. I started posting images on Flickr and the feedback I received online encouraged me to continue and try to improve.

"Enthusiasm, insight and personality I think are more important that hardware"

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Q: What's it like being a photographer in Glasgow?

Glasgow is a very interesting city, visually. I lived for a number of years in Edinburgh and London, but those cities never inspired me to take pictures like Glasgow does. There was a specific kind of light here that appeals to me. I find the textures and architecture fascinating.  There's something gritty and cinematic in Glasgow. I love the contrasts of old and new, Victorian architecture mixed with more brutalist buildings and structures from the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

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Q: Your street photography from what I've seen seems to focus heavily around silhouettes and high contrasts. Would you say so? How would you describe it?

I think it has something to do with the harshness of a city, its hard surfaces, anonymity and loneliness. I think this was more a subconscious decision rather than something I set out specifically to capture. I like hard directional light, chiaroscuro and strong shadows and texture. At my home we had a copy of Brassai's 'Paris By Night' book which I loved, those rich tones and mysterious urban landscapes and quaint architecture, the city was like a dark dream. I was also influenced by a love of black and white movies, especially noir films like Brighton Rock or Sweet Smell Of Success along with surrealist and cubist paintings by Braque, De Chirico and Magritte.

Q: You had your first solo show last October, how was it?

Slightly nerve-wracking and also exciting. It makes such a difference to see your work printed and framed and up on a gallery wall. It certainly helps to give you a pride in the work you have produced. I had already had work shown at annual exhibitions like the RGI, however it was very special to see a large number of framed prints up on the wall. It was my partner who originally approached the Hidden Lane Gallery and they were very enthusiastic about showing the work. It was a lovely space in which to have a first solo exhibition in Glasgow.


Q: Do you find it hard to get your photography seen and getting exposure? How do you approach this?

It's not so easy as obviously there are options online for posting work such as Flickr and 500px that can offer instant exposure,  however there are a huge number of very talented and technically proficient photographers out there as well and it can be hard to stand out. At first, for me, it was a very personal activity, I just took photos because I wanted to capture a place and time for myself and maybe produce something interesting. The more feedback I've had the more I have realised that I should be more ambitious and having my work shown in art galleries has encouraged this.

Q: Can you imagine your life without photography?

For a long time after studying for a BA in film and photography at Napier (which I finished in 2000) I was put off taking photographs and making videos. I had lost my enthusiasm for it as I found the environment in University quite discouraging. It was moving out of London that seemed to reawaken an interest in capturing moments, possibly because I wanted to retain more memories or experiences. I wanted documents of my life to look back on, consider and explore what interested me visually again. So I know exactly what it is like without photography in my life, and I doubt I could go back to that again.

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Q: If you could give a budding photographer one single piece of advice, what would it be?

Don't feel hampered by technical considerations, most people have cameras now on their mobile phone so there's no excuse not to experiment. Expensive equipment does not mean better images so go after what you find interesting and exciting and learn techniques as you go. Enthusiasm, insight and personality I think are more important that hardware.


Thanks very much Robin!

Visit Robin's website and follow him on Twitter.

All photos in this article © Robin Johnston