The Poughkeepsie native wanders into the DAC Coffeehouse, holding a large portfolio of prints and the welcoming smile of someone who immensely enjoys what they do. Zoe Golden-Johnson, freshman photography major, gushes about her interests in the art field, bursting with an excitement for what’s to come. In our conversation, she discusses everything from her influences to creative stumps to her emotional connection to her art.
Q: How did you first get into photography?
“I started when I was around 15. I got a camera from my grandpa and he was like ‘Oh just play around with it’ because he’s into photography as well. I would go out and just take, really, you know, not the best pictures; I would take pictures of my shoes in the park or clouds in the sky or like dogs or something silly like that…It started off as a hobby but then I took a class in high school and that’s when I was like ‘I want to do this forever, I want this to be my career and everything’ and so I’ve just done it ever since.”
Q: What do you think you will do with it, if you’re thinking careers?
“Well see, I love everything; I do portraits, I do landscapes. My dream job is to be with National Geographic, but that’s like a longshot but it’s my dream job. I plan, getting out of St. John’s, to do wedding photography and landscapes. I think I’m going to do more of a freelance because I’m into like all of it…And if I got hired, I would be able to do anything they were asking for. So, that’s what I’m leaning towards.”
Q: Are there any influences that you could say really shaped your work and what you want to do?
“My grandpa was definitely one. Actually my teacher in high school, she really got me into it because I didn’t know you could make a career off of photography but she started showing me how there’s wedding photographers and there’s photographers in JCPenney and people who are just everyday photographers…she kinda gave me that motivation to go forward with it and really inspire me because she used to be a photographer but she retired from it to teach us. My mom and dad, they were always supportive of me and whenever I would feel down, ‘Oh this photo’s not good,’ ‘Am I going to do this?’ they would always help me out, ‘You’ve got this, it’s what you want to do!’ They always helped me out.”
Q: Any art influences? Like photographers, cinematographers…
“What started it all was, we kinda did reports on photographers and I was like ‘This is so boring, I don’t want to do this,’ but then I researched Ansel Adams, the father of photography. He started it all and I was just amazed at his landscapes and everything about that. That also pushed me to say this is what I want to do…I would really love to work in landscapes and trying to promote about the Earth and giving back and trying to show what we’ve done to it. That’s what he inspired me to do.”
Q: It’s amazing how art can guide you along a path about that. Do you have anything to say about the power of art?
“Art, to me, is so beautiful. It comes in all shapes and forms. There’s poems, there’s drawings, there’s paintings, there’s photography, there’s so many songs. And I’m inspired by all of it, I could be sitting there and realize this song makes me feel some type of way but so does this photo. I love how photographers can make each person feel a different way, so every single person has their own story for the same photograph and that’s one of my favorite things about photography.”
Q: It’s universal but personal at the same time. Is there anything you want to say to people going into the arts?
“I would definitely say a lot of kids are scared of going into an art major, because, you know, it’s unreliable, as people say, or it’s not going to be a real career…When you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t even feel like you’re working. Anybody who is thinking of going into an art career, do it, don’t second guess yourself ever, go with your gut and everything will work out. Everything happens for a reason.”
Q: Is there any particular piece of work that you were incredibly passionate about?
“I used to, when I first got my camera, be a landscape person. I was never into photography with people because – oh my gosh – I have to know how to model them.”
It’s much more intimate.
“Yeah! And so, I was like ‘No way, no way I’m doing that.’ Then I started to get photography projects in class and they were like ‘Oh, try to bring people into it.’…I got my best friend and we were like let’s just fool around, do some random poses, put on some lipstick, just have fun with it…I was like ‘We were just having fun.’ That was the best part of it…I took a bunch of lipsticks and she tried on all but whatever lipstick she put on I was like, ‘Show me your mood with your lips.’ And so there’s a bunch of different positions she did. She did the kissy face, the duck face, all these weird things with her lips. The professor loved it. So I’m going to put it in the student show actually…Advertising, which I am also interested in, you have to work with people, to get people to want to buy these products…I really think that it’s cool that you can put other majors into the art major, like business, advertisement, all these tactics and stuff. That also amazes me because I’m like ‘Wow I never thought of that.’”
Q: If you are thinking advertisement, are you thinking fashion editorial?
“I would love to do fashion and also cosmetics. I would love to be how in movies they take pictures of people’s makeup, the really cool Hollywood makeup. I think it’s so beautiful; it’s another form of art…My favorite thing about photography is that you don’t have to stick with one thing. Like with any job, you can do all of these different things. I don’t just have to photograph people, I don’t have to just do landscapes. I don’t have to do just one thing.”
Q: In terms of motivation, how do you deal with creative ruts?
“There has been multiple times, even here while I’m at St. John’s, where I’m stuck, I don’t know what to do, I’ve run out of ideas. I would actually isolate myself, and I would just listen to music. I would just think of my life and everything. Then I would think about how this made me feel. And however I was feeling is however I would make my artwork into…After that I had more ideas, they just started flowing. Then I did a whole series on moods. I would try to portray how I felt with the weather; I didn’t always use people. If it was rainy outside and gloomy, I would go ‘Oh I kinda feel this way, let me take some landscapes with the clouds and bridges.’…It was cool that everyone would reach out to me with different meanings. ‘This makes me feel erie, I love it.’ ‘This makes me feel safe, I love it.’…”
You live vicariously through your art.
“I pretty much see through my camera lens.”
Q: Do you believe you will ever find that balance between nature and people?
“I think yes, but I think I just need to work to get there. I’ve done some photos – we’ve done environmental portraits which is with people and their environment outside. I don’t know – I was not so proud of them, a lot of other people liked them which is why self-motivation is a very good thing. A lot of people liked them but I wasn’t so happy with them. I’m still working to get there but I think it’s something to strive for.”
Q: If you had all the resources necessary, what would be your dream project?
“I would go to Africa and I would just photograph elephants. Elephants have been my favorite animal since I can’t even remember when. I just fell in love with them…That would be my complete dream job to go to Africa and photograph the elephants. I would really love for a whole project to get people to stop poaching elephants and selling the ivory…”
Q: As you develop your skills, do you believe your medium of art will ever change?
“I think, I might as I grow change from it, but I always think it will be my forever hobby. Even if I grow out of it, it’s always going to stay with me…It’s always going to be there. I think it’s going to be my friend that never leaves. As I change as a person, my art might change, and what I go into that’s interesting; I can’t wait to see that in the future.”
To view more of her work, go to @zoes.camera on Instagram