Photos of the Good Times You Usually Forget

Sydney-based photographer Alex Johnstone takes time capsule photos for when he's 50, even though he's only 21. But we like that.

by Isabelle Hellyer; photos by Alex Johnstone
02 May 2017, 5:25am

It's likely that you haven't heard of Alex Johnstone yet, but we want you to. We won't say next-big-thing or any of that, because who knows, but we will say he's a favourite of ours. There's something considered about his pictures; everything feels very much his work, which is rare when you're just starting out.

Alex recently turned 21, which makes him an Aries. I just Googled that, and apparently he's the optimistic, honest type who like comfortable clothes. Alex does have better manners than most people I know. He's nice in a real way, not in an "Oh, that's nice" type way. Plus, all his shirts are like, triple XLs even though he's a lanky dude. So there you go: isn't too bad. Nailing Alex down for a conversation took a bit of back-and-forth; he was in Canada last month, and then Hong Kong, but we got him in the end.

VICE: When did you officially decide to be Alex, the photographer?
Alex: I'd been trying to take photos more formally since 2015, so a couple of years now, but looking back in my archives I would only say I've been "a photographer" for eight or so months. That's how long I've been doing work I am actually happy with. I think it's always been a hard thing for me: coming to terms with the idea of saying "I take photos, and I am a photographer." I still don't really feel like I can do that justice in a way.

It's always scary sharing your work, right?
Definitely. Even in the past eight months, some of the stuff I was stoked on then, I look at now as fucking rubbish. But that's progression I guess, and that's good. I'm getting more in tune with it, collecting lots and lots of books recently.

Do you wanna be an old man surrounded by cameras and books, stacks and stacks but none of them dusty?
Yes. Definitely. I think regardless of whether anything happens with this, it's something I'll be doing for a very long time. I just want to keep remembering things. I used to live in the UK for a few years when I was younger, and I was able to travel to Africa and the Middle East. That sort of turned me on to taking photos: realising that I would probably never come back to most of these countries again. I thought, "at least if I've got these photos—and the photos may not be good—it's still something I can look back on when I'm 30 or 50." You know, when I can't remember much from that time. I can look back at the photos and it'll all just come back.

So it's a sentimental thing for you.
Yeah, I think that's the thing. Me and my friends take out cameras when we go away, and then get drunk the whole weekend, you know, no-one can remember anything. But when you get those little glimpses of photos looking back and it jolts you back to everything. It's always good looking back. My friend took some photos during a trip we took a couple years ago, and I completely forgot about all the shit that happened. There's photos of my friend locking his keys in his car and having to smash all of the windows to get them back.

That's extremely funny. Which of your friends is your favourite to photograph?
Max is definitely one of my favourites. He's just got so much personality and you can tell whenever you take a photo of him, he's great to photograph. I'm really fortunate to be surrounded by so many good creative friends, so many people that have done good shit.

I think you're also quite lucky because already, your photos have a look of their own, that nice olive wash is very you.
My photos used to be really over saturated, but then I fucking hated that look, ha. After that I started doing a lot of black and white, doing a lot of formal research, looking into other photographer's past and present and whatever. I think at that time, I was very into military-esque colours, all that camouflage stuff, so I started bring those tones into my photos. Turning greens into those olives, working with a lot of dark shadows.

You have a pretty broad portfolio—observational stuff, candid stuff, some landscape and some fashion. Where do you feel most at home?
Probably portraiture, I started out with portraiture. Well, it all started with shooting my friends. And I'm pretty lucky to have quite a few older friends share their knowledge, like my friend Jack Harries from the Heavy Collective, he's been a big influence recently with more documentary work. And then Ben Clement from Melbourne, he's been a big influence on my portraiture stuff. Having those older dudes pushing you along, it's so helpful.

Pays to be nice.

Alex Johnstone photographs a little bit of everything. He's based in Sydney, Australia. You can follow him on Instagram here.