Kremer Johnson – “It was a lot of work, but it was truly inspiring, and we will never forget the project”

June, 2018
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9 mins
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Image © The Interviewee

Creative Chair talks to off-piste photography duo Kremer Johnson

This week Creative Chair is in Los Angeles where we’re talking photography with Kremer Johnson.

Neil Kremer and Cory Johnson are not your typical photographers. Sure, they’ve worked for some big-name advertising clients and racked up some impressive awards, but their work in the way that it accentuates the bizarreries from the seemingly mundane.

When we sent over the interview questions, Neil wrote “Wow… these are not typical questions….these are GREAT questions. (the last question required a lot of weed (feel free to print that.))

Well, Neil, we have printed that, and here are your great answers! You can see a lot more from Kremer Johnson on their website.

An exploration of color and personality by Kremer Johnson
An exploration of color and personality by Kremer Johnson

What have been the most challenging collaborative aspects that the two of you have experienced working side by side?

For the most part, we see eye to eye on the projects we tackle. I hate to sound like everything is hunky dory all the time but to be honest, we get along really well. Clients often remark about how refreshing it is to see two people work so well together.

Fabric of America

We have a process and as long as we stick to the process, there aren’t many challenges. The only disagreements come from varying points of view. At times, one of us will see a project from a pessimistic or dark viewpoint and the other will see it as positive and inspiring.

The difference in viewpoints come to light when casting, blocking a shot and creating a lighting diagram. We quickly discuss which point of view is best for our brand and make a decision.

Portraiture II by Kremer Johnson
Portraiture II by Kremer Johnson

Does your process differ when photographing celebrities, models, and members of the public?

Yes, it absolutely differs.  Celebrities: (in our case are always actors) need to be directed meticulously. We study their body of work to look for expressions and body language we can refer to\during the shoot. We tell them exactly what we want from them before the shoot and then reinforce our vision during the shoot if needed.

“Once on set, we just shut up and let them do their thing”
Marvel Entertainment for Emmy Magazine
Marvel Entertainment for Emmy Magazine

Models: In most cases, we cast models for a specific look. Once on set, we just shut up and let them do their thing. It’s pretty awesome to be honest.

Bulletproof - You Only Better.

Members of the public (normal folks): If possible, we have as long a conversation with them as possible prior to the shoot. We get them to open up and then we look for moments. Facial expressions, body language, gestures and attitudes that tell their / our story. Once in front of the camera, we paraphrase the previous conversation to get them back to the moments that we’re looking for.

Champions Quest - Los Angeles CA 2017

If you could have a photography session with any living person, who would it be?

Kim Jong-Un. Seriously, look at that guy… he’s a living cartoon character. 2nd choice: Vladimir Putin if someone in a furry teddy bear costume could run into the room and tickle him until he laughs, then take a picture of that, boy you’ve really got something

Hip Hop on white

Let’ talk about your Craigslist encounters project. Where did the idea stem from and how did it come to fruition?

A friend of ours owns a chain of bed shops. When he explained that the bulk of his business comes from his Craigslist ads, we decided to look closer. After days of searching through endless ads and ramblings, we found a fascinating robust and diverse tapestry of people that use Craigslist as their lifeblood.

Craigslist Encounters

For many, it’s a source of gigs, trinkets to buy and sell, a way to meet like-minded people or just find someone or something to love. We decided to look for a common thread or at the very least, explore whether they are the fringe part of society that most people believe see them as.

The 131st 366 Award goes to Kremer/Johnson for his outstanding creative work.

Craigslist Encounters - by Kremmer Johnson
Craigslist Encounters – by Kremmer Johnson

We placed the ad and created a criterion for whom will be chosen to photograph. To be fair to the honesty of the project, we decided to shoot everyone that supplied a working e-mail address and mobile number that has been verified via text. We gave no applicant more time or consideration than the others.

It makes sense that your ad would attract some quirky characters, but how on earth do situations occur where the subjects are in the bath, on the toilet, or dressed as a ballerina smoking a cigarette in a convenience store?!

The very first photo session almost didn’t happen. The building was in a dangerous part of town and it didn’t look like the closet-sized apartment would be a fitting place to photograph someone. Let alone, someone that I can’t communicate with because they don’t speak English. (initial correspondence was interpreted thanks to Google translate.) It wasn’t an easy decision to go in there, but we did and the resulting image is still one of our favorites.

Craigslist Encounters

We knew then, we have to keep going. The process of requesting personal information about work and hobbies started leading to locations that helped tell their stories. It was easy to fit the puzzle pieces together through a series of simple questions. With a few shoots under our belts, we had a small body of work to post on the subsequent CL ads. Once people could see our intention, it all started to come together.

Craigslist Encounters - by Kremmer Johnson

The e-mails started rolling in with concepts attached. On several occasion, subjects would hire hair and make-up for the shoot. They would stage their homes to fit their stories. Our favorite was the two beautiful twin girls from Iowa. They eagerly and excitedly wrote; “will you please consider shooting twins for your project and would it be possible to photograph us in our bathtub wearing fancy shirts?”  How could any photographer say no to that?

Craigslist Encounters
Craigslist Encounters – by Kremmer Johnson

To us, the resulting series (40 images) satisfies our intention. The common thread that exists in everyone we photographed is an inspiring sense of confidence. The kind of confidence that’s only achieved by knowing who you are and not caring what anyone else thinks of you.

“They inadvertently taught us a great deal about who we are and how we can grow”
Craigslist Encounters
Craigslist Encounters – by Kremmer Johnson

Every subject that we were fortunate enough to meet was extremely comfortable in their own skin. Much more than we are or probably ever will be. In the end, we took a lot away from them. They inadvertently taught us a great deal about who we are and how we can grow. It was a lot of work, but it was truly inspiring and we will never forget the project.

Craigslist Encounters - by Kremmer Johnson

The ad reads: $20 per hour. After photographing over 60 people, only 4 asked for the cash.

And finally, if you died and got reincarnated as a song, what would that song be?

(I can’t get no) Satisfaction. (the DEVO version.) It’s not an original but man, they really made it their own and they fucking own it. (there’s that weed kicking in.)

(I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction"
(I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction (1978)
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What began as a fun question to end an interview, has now become a wonderfully eclectic collaborative playlist by 161 people (and counting).
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