Johanna Stickland is a photographer and painter who grew up in Alberta, USA, and currently lives in Portugal. She began modelling at the age of 14 and now enjoys being both in front and behind the camera.
Read the interview with Johanna which is featured in Issue Two. To see the essay of photography you can purchase the magazine here.
How would you define erotic photography?
I guess it could be defined as photography that arouses sexual desire or excitement. It is tricky to broadly define though, as what people find arousing is so varied.I tend to find more subtly suggestive images sexy, but I can also appreciate the beauty and boldness of explicitly sexual imagery.
Did you set out to create a narrative with these images?
The models that are featured in my photographs were new friends that I had just met that day, although I had previously admired their work. They came to my apartment and we all took photos, it was very laid back and easygoing. A lot of the images were taken spontaneously and the result of just documenting the day.
To us, this sequence of images suggests a story of innocence and intimacy. Was it your intention to capture these sentiments?
I enjoy a feeling of intimacy in photographs but I wasn’t consciously trying to capture anything in particular that day, and I didn’t have any set vision. I just kept an open mind and took pictures.
The models appear completely at ease with their nakedness and this is one of the reasons why we like the images so much. Does a relaxed and comfortable environment affect the success of a shoot?
Both of the girls I photographed have experience of modelling nude, so there wasn’t any awkwardness or unease. We were just having a nice afternoon hanging out in my room, getting to know each other, and taking photos. I think it helps to be in
a relaxed and trusting space.
Can you offer us your own philosophy with regards to nakedness and eroticism, and the distinction between the two?
I think of nakedness as a natural state, being stripped of the armour you wear in daily life when out in the world. A nude picture of a woman will almost always be sexualized and interpreted by someone as erotic even if that wasn’t the intention of the photographer. This reality is evident to me whenever I post very non-sexual nude pictures on my tumblr and then find that image reblogged to a porn site. The definition of eroticism really varies from person to person. To me, eroticism is more about what isn’t shown: it’s a yearning, a desire, a suggestion. I have never felt that because there is nudity in an image that it is inherently erotic. I think that all depends on the mood, direction of the shoot, and the intention of the photographer.
Is a good working relationship between yourself and the model an essential element in achieving a successful shoot?
I think it’s essential to be respectful and kind to others in general, so of course that extends to when I photograph people. I’m really open to collaboration and try to always be in the moment. I think the most special images, at least for me, come from the trust and sense of understanding between the model and myself.
We have been fans of your image-making for some time now. Do you prefer being in front of the lens as a model, or working behind the camera as a photographer?
Thank you. I do enjoy working with interesting photographers and being the subject from time to time. It’s much more submissive, but I kind of enjoy that. It’s interesting to me. I like taking my own photos because I have more control over the final outcome and it is something immediate that I can use as a creative outlet. Both being in front of and working behind the camera can inspire me in different ways.
Your work as a model is often fearless and you appear to be incredibly giving to photographers. Where does your courageousness come from?
Thanks so much. Wow I don’t see myself as courageous at all. I’m pretty shy and usually more of an observer. When I’m in front of the camera I’m not as reserved and something shifts. I suppose because I’ve been modelling for so long I feel very comfortable in front of the camera. It helps that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful artists whom I admire and trust.
Do you think that your own experience as a model makes you a better photographer?
I’ve been privileged to work with such a wide variety of photographers and I’ve definitely learned a lot from each experience. I’m not sure if that necessarily makes me a better photographer but it has definitely opened my eyes and helped me realise the type of images I am interested in making.
Brooke Lynne and Kara Neko, the models in this particular essay, are representative of models and photographers who use Instagram and tumblr as platforms for their art-making practices. You also seem to be active in this community. In what ways do you find these social media platforms beneficial?
Yes, I think these new platforms are really wonderful and exciting. A few years ago I discovered the modelling work of Nettie Harris online and it opened up a new world to me. Her work appeared like an individual free spirited performance and I felt really inspired because I never knew that modelling could be like that. I actually never thought it would be possible for me to ‘model’ again without fitting the agency standard requirements, but then I discovered places like tumblr to meet and collaborate with different photographers and for that I’m really thankful. I also use tumblr and sometimes Instagram to share my photography and paintings. It’s a great tool to connect with people and receive feedback.
You obviously enjoy photographing women. What is it about the female form that you enjoy capturing?
When I started taking pictures it was mostly of my female friends, so I guess there’s something about relating and connecting with women, and then creating something together, that I feel comfortable with and enjoy. I also simply think women are beautiful. The curves, softness, sensuality, strength, and energy of women really inspire me.
What is it that you look for in a model?
Sometimes I see a woman and she reminds me of a character from a movie or a painting I’ve seen. I really love faces and soulful eyes that have something going on behind them. When someone’s energy or character interests me I get a kind of gut instinct that makes me want to photograph them.
For us, your photographs embody an intimate sensuality. Do you consciously address issues of sexuality and eroticism in your work?
Not really. I’m human so my brain is always thinking of that kind of stuff and it probably seeps into the mix when I take photos, but I prefer when things come about in a more natural way. I never want to stage an image in order that it might seem sexual or intimate. I would rather it ended up being that way entirely on its own. If I consciously thought about addressing issues of sexuality there would likely be an absence of eroticism in my work as it would be too obviously forced.
Visit Johanna’s website here.