For me, photography is so much more than just a profession. It defines who I am and has been so significant in my life. It’s made sense of my past and continues to shape my future. It’s introduced me to some amazing people and shown me places I never could have imagined.
Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I loved making things and was always curious about how things worked. I'd help my dad with diy projects around the house and learn to sew with my mother. I was creative but also fascinated by science and how things worked. An odd mix that made no sense to my parents or teachers and consequently, me.
I ended up with a mediocre science degree. It taught me there was no way I wanted to have a career in science. I left university with no idea what to do and ended up doing equally mediocre jobs. I was directionless and that troubled me greatly.
I didn’t have the luxury of growing up with a camera let alone entertain the possibility of a career as a photographer. I was born to immigrant parents from India who valued education highly and encouraged traditional careers like medicine, engineering and law. None of these appealed to me. Again, I didn't fit any neat boxes.
Despite having no access to photography as a kid, I remained fascinated by it. I decided to indulge my curiosity at the age of 22 when I bought my first camera - a Minolta 7000. It was the first camera to feature autofocus and motorised film advance. The autofocus was slow and noisy but I loved it and photographed everyone and everything.
Eventually, I got fed up making pictures of friends and family and wanted to capture real life. On 31 March 1990, I boarded a train to London to photograph what became known as the Poll Tax riots. It sounds clichéd but I came away wanting to change the world. I had found my voice but most of all, I had discovered my passion.
Poll Tax Riots - 31 March 1990. Trafalgar Square, London. ©Rob Johns. All rights reserved.
I came back with handfuls of film, not quite sure what to do with them but eager to share my story with everyone. A friend suggested I contact a local newspaper. They ran my story and published my pictures. I was thrilled. When I went to collect my negatives they asked me to freelance for them. I had no real idea what I was doing at the time but I knew it was a great opportunity. I started shooting news, sport and features on evenings and weekends. Finally, I had a direction to follow but the following year, on 18 February 1991, tragedy struck. I lost my father, aged 70 to an incurable lung disease. He never saw me succeed as a photographer. I so wish he had.
I quit my job and took out a career development loan to study photojournalism at the London College of Printing, now part of University of the Arts London (UAL). A year later I gained a Postgraduate Diploma in Photojournalism and knew exactly what I wanted to do in life. I had found my focus and saw my future. I wanted to tell stories and engage audiences.
I haven’t stopped and photography is my life. I continue to work for a wide range of clients, each with their own story to tell. I’m just as comfortable working in the studio as I am on location, using flash or available light, making pictures of world leaders or the dispossessed. Photojournalism has provided me with a solid foundation for visual storytelling.
©Tanja Nikola. Me at work in a studio.
Haka being performed by Manaia Maori group. ©Rob Johns. All rights reserved.
In 2006, I returned to UAL, this time as an Associate Lecturer to teach photojournalism and discovered my passion for teaching. In 2009, I gained a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching and qualified as a teacher. I’ve also worked at Morley College and Idea Store Learning in Tower Hamlets where I've taught digital photography and filmmaking.
I continue to teach photography and filmmaking alongside working as a photographer. I am equally passionate about both and find them hugely rewarding.
I had no idea those early years of exploring creativity and discovering how things work were to serve as the perfect foundation for my career as a photographer. Photography offers wonderful creativity but demands technical knowledge. Both sit very comfortably with me. Now you know what I mean, when I say it makes sense of my past.
If you are a brand or business owner, entrepreneur, influencer or guru of any kind, get in touch. I'd love to hear your story and help create engaging pictures to reach your audience.
Equally, if you require training for photography or filmmaking, I can help.