About the Photographer
American, b. 1949
A self-taught photographer, Michael Johnson began photographing the Midwestern landscape over thirty years ago, shooting with a large format view camera and creating meticulous black and white prints. He began his career by working in a commercial photography studio in Chicago, which allowed him to develop his technical skills, but eventually moved to Mount Carroll, Illinois to pursue photography independently.
Over the course of his career he has gone on to photograph various settings throughout rural America, from bucolic pastures to tranquil cemeteries, as well as natural landscapes in the eastern and western regions of the country. Johnson sees his work as continuing the lineage of 17th century Dutch painters, but his photographs also share a certain kinship with the landscapes of Ansel Adams. In choosing where to photograph, Johnson may forgo the heroic vistas Adams favored for more intimately-scaled environments, but he responds with equal sensitivity to the specific qualities of the light in his locations. He uses Adams' Zone System, a method of determining an exposure to ensure an ideal tonal range.
MoCP holds 35 of Johnson's photographs in the permanent collection, made between 1974 and 1980. Although Johnson has been active as a photographer for almost four decades, these early works reflect the particular range of subjects that he has concentrated on throughout his career. In addition to photographing the landscape in the Midwest and beyond, Johnson has also made a number of formal studies of botanticals. He continues to live and work near Mount Carroll, Illinois, where he also operates a sustainable tree farm with his wife.