Photographer Jamie Johnson (Birdee)

In episode #44 host Brett Stanley chats with Jamie Johnson, an underwater photographer better known by her artist name of Birdee. Jamie’s work has a rawness to it, and she captures the female form in a very real way. Through her images she examines themes of femininity, strength, and grace, as well as exploring the healing element of water.

They talk about her love of film photography, creating double exposures underwater, and how music plays a huge role in her inspiration.

Follow this guest: Website, Instagram

Discuss the episode in our facebook group.

Read Waterproof Magazine.

Support the podcast.

About Jamie Johnson (Birdee) – Underwater Photographer

Since 2014, Birdee (Jamie Johnson) has been capturing the female form through her photography. In her work she examines themes of femininity, strength, and grace, as well as exploring the healing element of water.

Her journey began with self portraiture as a means of embodiment and empowerment, and has since shared that same experience with others through immersive portrait sessions and fine art imagery.


2021. First Place Fine Art series, Fine Art Photography awards.

2021. Amateur Fine Art Photographer of the year, Fine Art Photography awards.

2021. Finalist nudes series, Fine Art Photography awards.

2021. Human Wonder interview

2021. Vogue Italia “Pic of the Day”

2021. Finalist, LensCulture Art Photography Awards

2019. Converge Las Cruces “The Face of Climate Change”. Group. Las Cruces, New Mexico.

2019. Image Nation “Ethereal: A Daily Poetry”. Group. Paris, France

2019. Bohemian Dreamer Gallery. “Submerged” Solo.  Sedona, Arizona

2017. DBHOM Gallery. Group. Gainesville, Florida

Podcast Transcript

44 – Jamie Johnson

Brett Stanley: [00:00:00] Welcome back to the underwater podcast. And just before we get into this week’s episode, I wanted to talk about a new magazine we’ve published, dedicated entirely to underwater artists called Waterproof Magazine this issue features interviews with two of our past guests, Ilse Moore and Suahuatica. 

Sticker a feature on Andre Musgrove’s new short film child of the cenote articles on printing and perfecting the split shot with Cheryl Walsh and Damon Lobel.  And loads of photo editorials created by some of the most talented underwater artists from around the world. You can check it out now at 

Or I’ll link to it in the show notes. 

This week though, my guest is Jamie Johnson, an underwater photographer, better known by her artist’s name of Birdee jamie’s work has a rawness to it, and she captures the female form in a very real way. Through her images. She examines themes of fertility. Strength and grace, as well as exploring the healing element of water. We talk about her love of film, photography, creating double exposures under water and how music plays a huge role in her inspiration. Okay. Let’s dive in.  

Jamie welcome to the underwater podcast.  

Jamie Johnson: [00:01:12] Hey Brett, thank you so much for having me.

Brett Stanley: [00:01:15] Where are you at the moment you travel quite a bit.

So where in the world are you? Right? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:01:19] I do travel a lot these days. Right now I’m in Athens, Georgia, which is just a sweet little town, but our outside of Atlanta,

Brett Stanley: [00:01:28] Oh, cool. I think the only reason I know about Georgia is, is that where REM is from.

Jamie Johnson: [00:01:33] I think so. Yeah. There’s a lot of music here. 

Brett Stanley: [00:01:36] that’s awesome. Do you like me? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:01:38] I do. I love music. My boyfriend is a musician and he’s here recording right now. So that’s what brings us here. 

Brett Stanley: [00:01:45] That’s great. 

Does, does music kind of, kind of end up in your work at all? Like, does it, does it influence you? Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:01:52] You know, it really does. I have found that. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, where you’ve figured out. This element that really kind of unlocks inspiration for you? For me, that’s music and a lot of ways um, when I listen to music,  sometimes I get visions almost immediately and I’ll get ideas just pouring in or shoots.

And, yeah, it’s really beautiful. It’s almost like the key that unlocks inspiration in a lot of ways.

Brett Stanley: [00:02:23] that’s amazing because cause for me, music, I tend to get stuck in the lyrics. Like I find the lyrics tend to. Give me the vision, you know, like the, a run of words, we’ll kind of make an image in my head. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:02:36] Oh, yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:02:37] is that how it works for you or is it more the, kind of the musical side of it? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:02:42] Yeah, I think it’s more of the musical side. That’s really interesting that you say that because, I have thought about that before, how I can listen to a song over and over again, and I don’t know the lyrics so 

Brett Stanley: [00:02:53] Yeah. Okay. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:02:54] And um, it’s like, I’m listening to just the feeling that it’s giving me and the world that it’s taking me to not necessarily the actual.

Lyrics of the song and what they’re talking about.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:07] Yeah.

no, I totally get that. So yeah. like things like pink Floyd And things where you’ve got these very like a soundscape sort of things, you know, it’s less about the lyrics and it’s more about the emotions.

Jamie Johnson: [00:03:17] yeah. And then I it’s, it’s something that in the, because of that, I. Well be listening to a song with friends and it’s like, oh no, I don’t know the lyrics to sing along, but I love the song. I promise I listened to it all the

Brett Stanley: [00:03:32] Yeah. Yeah. And the same with like names of songs and stuff. Like I’m terrible knowing the names of them. Like I’ll I’ll know the lyrics and I’ll sing along like she’ll date till the cows come home. But I can not tell you what the name of that song is. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:03:45] Same. Yeah. So does listening to the story in a song. So does that inspire, you would also poetry or reading books inspire you in the same way?

Brett Stanley: [00:03:58] Yeah. So, so I’m very wordy, you know, words and phrases to me kind of sparks something in my brain. So, you know, like three words together can give me a, can basically build a whole world in my head. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:04:10] Wow.

Brett Stanley: [00:04:10] And so it’s more that that really gets me. And creates those kinds of images for me. And I don’t, I don’t particularly see that in my work.

I don’t sort of look at my work and go, oh, that was those lyrics, but it’s just kind of the word spark an emotion in me. And then that emotion then sparks a vision. So I guess, you know, similar to what happens with you with the musical side of it, you know, it’s not, it might not be directly influenced by it, but it gives you a pathway to something.


Jamie Johnson: [00:04:39] Yes. Yeah. That’s so interesting. It’s so neat to hear how different people are inspired in different ways. And it’s so exciting when you figure that out. Those sources of inspiration for you and how, like what that pathway is for, for you. 

Brett Stanley: [00:04:57] Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

It, to me, it’s interesting how people get influenced by things and, and inspired by things without even knowing, because one of the. I try to ask people on the show is, you know, what are your influences? And it’s, it’s one of those questions that kind of stumps people. Cause they, they can’t kinda nail down sometimes what it is that influences them in whatever way. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:05:20] Yeah, it’s really interesting to think about it. And I wonder if it just takes practice observing when you get inspired, where did that come from? Or, you know, how did that come about? Maybe it’s a practice of sitting down and taking time to think about it. 

Brett Stanley: [00:05:36] Yeah. Yeah. So, so speaking of that sort of thing. So when you do your work, like, are you, and we’ll get into. The details of your work in a minute, I guess, but, but when you are creating your images, are you creating something that you’ve already kind of pre-planned or are you kind of building a situation where you can sort of create some cool stuff and then afterwards you’re like, oh, that’s, that’s the thing I was at. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:06:01] Yeah. A little bit of both. I have learned this past year, especially the beauty of planning and when I first started doing photography about six years, six or seven years ago, I, it was all just feeling in the moment, no planning. And that’s kind of how I ended up in the pool too. Feeling an overwhelming feeling of wanting to create this beautiful theorial world.

That felt like a dream and an escape for me. And Over time though, as now I’m doing, commissioned shoots. There’s a lot of beauty in the planning as well. And so we’ll plan to a certain extent. I love, making a vision board together and maybe even a playlist or a free writing or something with them to really understand what’s what’s going on in their mind and what they want out of this shoe.

Brett Stanley: [00:07:00] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:07:01] And then from there we’ll plan a certain extent, like, okay, this kind of pool or this kind of backdrop, these colors and, and those kinds of things. And then from there, I just we’ll gather a whole bunch of items to bring to the shoot for us to play with, and then let the, let the creativity flow and let there be freedom within that space.

Brett Stanley: [00:07:26] So do you like to be with these commissions shoots? Do you like the direction from the client? Do or do you kind of like having free reign to create what you, what you feel. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:07:36] Yeah, the beauty of these shoots that I’ve been doing lately is that a lot of them, they see my work and they just, it’s almost more of an experience. 

uh, experience that they’re looking for. And a lot of cases, they just want that feeling of being free and expressing themselves and this beautiful way and the water.

And and then they trust my vision beyond that. A lot of times I’ve found that, we do create a bit of a vision together for the shoot, but otherwise, I think I’ve, maybe I’ve just really lucked out with all of, of the people that fired me. And that we’re just really excited to create something together in which they can freely express themselves in a new way.

Brett Stanley: [00:08:26] Yeah.

So, so they’re kind of coming for the, for the birdie experience. So for your kind of your kind of flavor, your kind of themes that come through the shoot. See, that’s great. That’s really nice. When, when, when they can tell you that. I, I have clients that come and will show me a specific image from, from another photographer or from, you know, from, from a magazine.

And they’re like, I want this and I find it really hard because I didn’t shoot it. So I don’t know how it was taken. And how do I create this thing that someone else who came out of someone else’s brain, whereas having someone come to you and say, I just want what you do. I want you to create me in your.

Situation. I find that a lot nicer. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:09:07] Yeah, I do feel really lucky that my shoots have ended up that way. I have to say, looking at your work, if anyone could do a plan shoot like that, it would be you. I really admire your work in that way and how, how you build the sets and. I just all of the detail and thought that goes into, I can tell a lot of that goes into your work and it really is incredible.

Brett Stanley: [00:09:34] Oh, thank you. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:09:35] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:09:36] Unfortunately, I’m terrible planning. I’m not a plan shooter. I’m, I’m kind of I’m, I’m more like you, I think in terms of, of, I will. Bring a bunch of stuff to the shoot that we might be able to use, whether it’s actual physical things or just ideas. And then wherever we end up is what we get, you know very rarely do I go into a shoot apart from maybe building the walls of a set and know what I want from it, because I like that feeling of discovery.

I like finding, I like letting the water kind of tell me what’s going on. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:10:07] Yeah. Yeah. I love that too. I love the element of surprise that you can get from certain shoots and how I mean, I’ve had some where the water clarity, wasn’t what I was hoping. And then we ended up in the hot tub and got incredible pictures. I mean, who would have thought, you know, it’s like, like sometimes though.

Those times where it’s forces you to think outside the box and try something new and, kind of reroute and then find that other thing that I would’ve never done before, but it was so magical and so beautiful and it made a different look than I would have normally done. It’s so fun. I love that feeling.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:47] Yeah, And I think that’s kind of how you grow as an artist is being open to those things. You know, letting the universe kind of throw things at you. And as long as you’re prepared to be able to roll with them, you can get some stuff that, like you say, you’d never even thought.

Jamie Johnson: [00:11:01] Yeah, definitely. It’s so I’m realizing more and more, and then also making the space for that to happen. Creating, you know, making sure we have enough time and, and all the different things to play with. And even if we’re not going to use most of it, I, I love to bring enough to issue that we have all these different things we can try that are new.

And yeah. Do you do that?

Brett Stanley: [00:11:28] No I do, but mine’s more of a, a mental sort of situation where it’s this thing that I call chaos. that?

it’s basically being open to anything that can happen and being ready for it. And so when I built my pool studio here in long beach, I built basically a pool that I could shoot in 360 degrees. So that if I was with her with a client and we’re shooting one direction and then I happen to see something else, they were like, oh, actually, you know what, let’s, let’s turn 180 and shoot this way.

So it’s, for me, it’s about being, just being prepared for the unexpected. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:12:01] Wow. That’s incredible. You have a space, you can do that. And yeah. I love that idea of the chaos theory and yeah, just going, going forward and seeing what kind of different things you can create. And I love that you can, you have that space where you can shoot from any angle. And 

Brett Stanley: [00:12:22] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:12:22] really neat.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:23] It really kinda makes things, I think that’s how my creativity works. Like I don’t I don’t work very well with prescribed boundaries because I get, I overthink things and I get kind of, stressed by the fact that I’ve got to nail this one thing. But if I have, you know, kind of an open.

Canvas that I can just kind of throw things out and go, Ooh, that’s working. Let’s keep doing that. Then that’s, that’s when I get my best images. And I was doing a shoot yesterday with a model that I’ve worked with a lot, Jessica, and, you know, my lights didn’t work for one, for one shot, but what I saw in that shot that I, that had no strobes going on.

It was incredible. And it wasn’t something that I’d never even thought of doing. And so then I just turned my lights off and did the rest. the natural light that we were using. And I would never have gone down that road if my lights hadn’t failed. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:13:11] That’s so cool. I can’t wait to see how those turned out. Are you going to be sharing any of them?

Brett Stanley: [00:13:17] Yeah. Yeah. I think once one thing, once I get through the edit I’ll, I’ll stick them?

up on my on my Instagram. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:13:22] Awesome. Yeah, I I’ve never used lights before. So I’ve never, never experienced something like that, but I don’t have a specific pool that I use. And so I think that that in itself lends to the chaos theory a little bit, using a different pool almost every time. I’m shooting and like, what are we going to get this time?

What’s the water going to be like? And, I try and pick pools that I, you know, look at the, what the surface is and make sure that they keep it really clean. And You know how many stairs and railings and things like that are in it and the direction of light. And, but otherwise, sometimes you just never know.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:08] Well, I think because that’s how I started that way before I had this studio here, I started, you know, like you are traveling and using random pools and, and you never know what you’re going to get. And I feel like it makes you a more agile photog. Like it gives you more skills in terms of being able to deal with anything, you know.

Cause you turn up at this, whether it’s a rented pool or if it’s the client’s pool and it could be amazing and they could be well looked after, or it could just be total crap, but you’ve got to make it work. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:14:35] yes, I had this one pool that was a black box. Which, so it’s kind of exciting. It’s something a little different. And it was a friend’s pool and it wasn’t clean. When we showed up that day, it was really dirty. The water was murky. There was all kinds of leaves and stuff in it. And we were like, well, we’re here.

We have the day we’re going to do it. You know, like, let’s see what we can get and actually love the pictures that we got. Because I mean, it looks like we’re in a lake or a natural body of water somewhere. You can’t tell where an, a pool at all. 

Brett Stanley: [00:15:12] see. That’s cool. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:15:14] It was really neat. It was hard because I had a hard time seeing her, And I had, I just had a hard time navigating the water clarity, but but the, we, it was amazing.

Yeah. We had so much fun. It was like once we could just let go and just enjoy ourselves and have fun. And and then the outcome was great. It was, it was really good.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:39] I love that sort of thing. Like, especially with the water clarity, cause it gives you, you know, it, it gives you a different look. It gives you a different softness to the, to the images and all that sort of stuff. But when I was traveling around doing this and jumping in pools that were terrible, I was just thinking, man, if I was like a land photographer, you don’t get these problems.

You know, you could just, you could travel to another place, rent a studio, and it’s not like you gonna walk into that studio and they’re going, oh, you know what? The smoke machine stuck on. We can’t turn it off. So you’re gonna have to shoot with this mic machine. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:16:06] Yeah, that’s so true. I never thought about that before. 

Brett Stanley: [00:16:09] It’s just the stuff we have to deal with, you know. like it’s, it’s, it’s kind of unacceptable a lot of the time, but we gotta, we have to push through. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:16:15] And the temperature too, it’s not like, you know, generally a studio that you might rent will be a company. Temperature to shoot, 

Brett Stanley: [00:16:24] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:16:25] sometimes, I mean, they, some people might say it’s heated and it’s still pretty darn cold to shoot in for several hours. 

Brett Stanley: [00:16:33] So how do you, So if you’re doing a commission like that do you usually use the pool that the client has recommended or are you renting a pool? And then the clients turning up.

Jamie Johnson: [00:16:40] So I usually rent the pool a few times. I have had the client had a pool or. A friend has a pool. That’s close to where we want to shoot. But lately I’ve been renting them, through different means through apps or calling around. And I kind of like that a little bit of control in it, just to make sure now that it’s going to be heated to a certain temperature and different things like that.

Brett Stanley: [00:17:08] Yeah.

Jamie Johnson: [00:17:08] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:17:09] what happens if a client turns up and the pool is cold, do they, how do you deal with that? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:17:15] So I have had that happen and the clients are always so positive and just excited and it’s like, they don’t mind. And I do 

Brett Stanley: [00:17:25] Okay, 

Jamie Johnson: [00:17:26] like I’m cold and they’re just like, yeah, this is great. But yeah, I would talk to the host about heating it and they’d turn up the heat and it takes a little while, but usually, you know, we might just have to kind of hold off for an hour or two while the heat’s running have some hot tea sit in the sun, things like that.

If we, if we get cold. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:17:46] I think so looking at your work, I think that that those sorts of uncomfortable nurses, like, you know, goosebumps and cold water and that sort of stuff kind of work for you cause you, your work is so real and so raw that, you know, goosebumps on someone’s skin, I don’t think would, would look at it. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:18:04] Thank you. Yeah, I, I do feel like the place where my work comes from. I want it to feel really natural and real, and like, there’s that certain energy in it, 

Brett Stanley: [00:18:16] Okay. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:18:16] Of just suspend and playtime and it doesn’t have to be posed or perfect for that to be a beautiful thing. And Yeah. So there is that element that I don’t want it to look too planned or posed or 

a perfect, even though I am drawn to that, you know, that one image that’s just, wow.

But I, I do I’d want it to be, I think, experience that when people look at it, it feels freeing for them.

Brett Stanley: [00:18:46] Yeah. I mean, it’s a very voyeuristic kind of look like you’re, you’re capturing these moments of real intimacy and you know, it’s not often that, that the subject is connecting with the viewer. Like it’s. Disconnected, I’d say, is that kind of your kind of aesthetic is of that sort of voyeuristic kind of style? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:19:05] Hm. I never really thought of it like that. I think that, Where it all came from for me was my own experience of experiencing freedom and natural state and water. And I started out by doing self portraits and that way, and it was so freeing for me, and it was such a, a beautiful, full way to connect to my femininity and.


Brett Stanley: [00:19:33] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:19:33] and being comfortable in my own skin. Finding my voice, being comfortable with sharing what I’m creating with other people. And when I started sharing my work that I was just creating for myself. A lot of other people started reaching out, wanting that experience for themselves too.

And so that’s really the heart of my work and where it comes from is, is really the experience. And then to be able to have some beautiful artwork that you can hold in your hands and see how beautiful you are and remind you of that, that freedom. And. And the bravery that you have within yourself.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:17] Yeah. So it’s, it’s the, the images you create a kind of the result of the experience. They’re not, they’re not the summer. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:20:24] Yeah. And maybe because that’s so much of where my heart is, I don’t really have people coming to me with a specific image in mind. Maybe that energy really translates in my work. Yeah. Unfortunately, that is the kind of client that I’ve drawn.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:42] Which is great, right? That’s, that’s kind of, that’s kind of a perfect storm for you as a, as an artist. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:20:47] It is. I love it. It’s really my dream. It’s such a dream job for me. I mean, I really just started doing it offering it for other people a couple of years ago. And so for 15 years I’ve been doing ultrasound for work. And this last couple of years, I decided this is my passion. I love it so much. And I, I don’t really want to be doing anything else.

I just want to be creating these spaces for people to feel this joy and freedom and. 

Brett Stanley: [00:21:20] Okay. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:21:21] And this feeling of being able to be underwater in this way. I do shoots on land too. And just the feeling of being able to be in nature naked, or, you know, if, if you wanted to wear outfits too, but just that freedom and that feeling of feeling beautiful in front of the camera.

Yeah, I just, I just kind of went for it a couple of years ago and it’s really, it’s a dream. 

Brett Stanley: [00:21:45] So this is your full-time gig. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:21:47] It is. Yeah, I know. It’s pretty amazing.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:52] So, so let’s take it back a bit. So, how did you, what made you get underwater in the first place?

Jamie Johnson: [00:21:58] So yeah, it was back in 2014, I started doing some self portraits and it was a really a way for me to kind of cope with what was going on in my life at the time. And. I didn’t even really, it wasn’t like, oh, I need to cope. Let me do self portraits. It was all just, just happened really naturally. 

Brett Stanley: [00:22:19] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:22:20] Just an outlet, something, something to do.

And it really started connecting me to myself more. It’s really confronting actually to do self portraits. But it helped me feel more connected to myself at the time. And. At the time I had a pool at my house and I was just, you know, out there swimming and just the feeling that I had when I was swimming.

I was just like, oh, this is what if I could take pictures on their water? And you know, what, if I could capture this feeling and a picture. And so right then that day I got out of the pool and ran to target and bought a waterproof case for my phone. And I got back home and jumped in the pool again with it.

And my first picture is I just was in love. Yeah. This is beautiful and amazing. And I just created this dream world where reality wasn’t very pretty, but, I could create this other world and use feelings that I wanted to embrace more. And yeah, so that’s how I started with underwater. It really felt like Elizabeth Gilbert talks in her book.

Big magic about inspiration. Yeah. Coming and hitting you and you know, maybe it it’ll go on to someone else. If you don’t grab it right away. It kind of felt like that. Like I had to grab it really quick and run with it before it left me. 

Um, yeah. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way with inspiration and 

Brett Stanley: [00:23:49] Yeah. A little bit. I mean, I kind of, yeah, I think my, I tend to. Think of a lot of things at once. Like I’ll go down a rabbit hole and lose myself for have a long thinking about all these things and then come back with a whole bunch of stuff, which I then sort of file away and may never do or do. But yeah, sometimes it is that.

sort of any district now, or it’s not gonna, it’s not gonna have. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:24:12] Yeah. It’s like, um, sometimes when that happened for me too, I, I know that I could just put it on the side and keep putting it off. Like, oh, it’s going to take a lot of work and I have to do all this, you know, to do it. And maybe it’s just not meant to happen. And that’s okay too.

Brett Stanley: [00:24:30] Yeah, exactly. You know, I think that’s, that’s the other thing of, and that’s probably how, why we work the way we do, because we have this openness to the universe or to whatever, you know, the things that will happen will happen and things that aren’t meant to happen didn’t happen. You know, I think it’s, I think it’s that acceptance that that makes a lot of us water people, because you know, the, you have to kind of deal with what the water gives you.

You can’t control it. So. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:24:53] Yes. I love how you made that connection. That I do think that. As water people, we can, we do have to flow with those kinds of things. There’s so many different elements and yeah, so many people that I’ve connected to. Yeah. I guess everyone that does underwater photography, it’s like, we connect on that as well.

And, and, and also just this other world that we’re so enthralled with and the seriousness of it, but also. Yeah, being up for something new and, yeah, I love that.

Brett Stanley: [00:25:28] And speaking of something new, you, you shoot a lot of film. How did you go from shooting with you or. Phone in a case to then shooting film under yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:25:38] Yeah. I love shooting with film. And so when I. Started sharing my images on Instagram than I was getting with my phone. My self portraits. I started meeting some incredible people through Instagram. It was really this beautiful community, especially back in 2014. It just felt like people that I could relate to that I didn’t really have at the time.

Yeah. My personal life, real life. And so I met some, some people through Instagram and a couple of those people were shooting film and I loved what they were doing. They’re so, so talented, really beautiful work. I just really connected to what they were doing and we. Built a friendship and then they started encouraging me to keep going and, maybe try film, you know, what about shooting, film, underwater?

And so it was really, I have to think my friends that I met through Instagram for. Encouraging me to keep going and also to try new things like that and to try these different ways of capturing. And it was a little bit of a process finding a film camera that I could do self-portraits underwater with, Ryan Muirhead and I did a collaboration and he found a camera that I could do self portraits with then told me about it.

Brett Stanley: [00:27:03] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:27:04] That was how I got started doing them underwater and first time yeah. Above water portraits. I had just, I think I went on Craigslist and found a Minolta and, and then I got all the equipment to develop my own black and white film at home, just in the sink. And I guess I’m like if I’m going to be shooting all these self self-portraits nudes, I kind of don’t want to send them to the lab 

Brett Stanley: [00:27:28] That’s true. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:27:28] when I wouldn’t be able to develop them myself, at least in the beginning, you know?

And. Get a hang of it. 

Brett Stanley: [00:27:34] Yeah. Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:27:35] And so I got, it was a, it was another one of those experiences where I got the inspiration. You know, my friends are telling me to shoot film. And so I was like, okay, I’m going to go get everything today. And then, and then just like shot a roll of film and developed it all in one day.

And it was so exciting and just seeing the physical product. Of what just happens like this is physically on film and it’s just beautiful and it doesn’t have to be perfect. And I love the grain and accidentally opened the camera and the light leaks and stuff like that. It just kind of adds to the magic of it to me.

And I’m all about the experience of somethings. So film, I feel like it’s a physical product of an experience, so 

Brett Stanley: [00:28:27] yeah, I love that kind of, because even that, and I’m just kind of making all these links, you know, cause even with the film, there’s so much that can go wrong that can add to the film. Yeah, It can add to the image like light leaks or scratches or. You know, overexposing or something like that, that you don’t get with a digital experience because it’s so instant that you’ll see that you’ve done something wrong and fix it.

Whereas with film, you will shoot a whole role. Not knowing if it’s any good, you know, and then you come out the other end and you’re like, oh, wow. Okay. that’s not even what I was expecting to get either in a good way or a bad day, by the way.

Jamie Johnson: [00:29:02] that’s true. Yeah. And for the commission shoots, I always, I still always love to shoot film, but I will also shoot digital just to make sure we get. A lot of really good pictures, because like you said, I mean, sometimes the film, it just especially underwater constant movement and you just never know.

I mean, it just might not be quite, quite the feeling that we were going for. And so it can be a little tricky sometimes I’ll get one good one off a roll of film. Sometimes I won’t get any, sometimes I’ll get like 10 or 20.

Brett Stanley: [00:29:39] Yeah. And that’s the thing too. It is, it is a little bit of a gamble. So, you know, having the digital there as a backup is definitely, definitely a good idea. I shot a. An album cover a few years ago for a band in LA called wise blood. And we built this whole set. And the artist was very, very much into analog.

So she wanted, you know, she wanted me to shoot on film and I was like, you know, we probably shouldn’t do that because you know it, what if it doesn’t work? So we shot it on digital. But my. Jenny Beaumont, who is an amazing underwater photographer and cinematographer at she’s deep into the film world.

She has a, a 16 millimeter underwater video camera or not video, but film camera, motion, camera, and we shot some sequences on this Bolex underwater camera. And it looked really cool, but when we got the film back, it was pretty much black. You got nothing pretty much nothing out of it. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:30:34] Oh, such a bummer. 

Brett Stanley: [00:30:37] Yeah, 

Jamie Johnson: [00:30:38] I love that shoot. You did with wise blood and is absolutely beautiful. And her music is beautiful. What a great collaboration, 

uh, for you two to do that project together. 

Brett Stanley: [00:30:50] Was, it was so cool. And it was an in terms of technical difficulties. The, the beautiful thing was, you know, my imagery is generally very sharp and crisp and clean. But we had technical difficulties on the day and we shot into the night, which is not what we were expecting. Didn’t have enough light.

And so I had to basically push the ISO on my camera, like way up. And so all the images are really grainy, but she loves grainy images. So what came out the other end was something that looked like it was probably shorter. You know, some like 1200 ASA film. So my mistakes ended up adding to that imagery and kind of making it more in line with her vision. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:31:29] Oh, I love hearing the backstory on that. That’s so cool. It’s another one of those chaos things like we were talking about. I mean, just kind of running, running with it and rolling with the punches and then what you got was just incredible and she loved it. Kind of work worked out for everybody. 

Brett Stanley: [00:31:47] Exactly. I mean, it doesn’t always work out, you know, there are times when it just absolutely goes to crap, 

Jamie Johnson: [00:31:52] Yeah, 

Brett Stanley: [00:31:52] but we don’t talk about those. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:31:53] exactly. Yeah. We don’t highlight those. 

Brett Stanley: [00:31:56] That’s right. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:31:57] That’s so cool. And well, good thing. You didn’t shoot the whole thing on film. Cause then it really would have all turned up black. 

Brett Stanley: [00:32:03] Yeah, pretty much. Yeah.

That was just me kind of going, Yeah.

We need to have a plan B here. We need to we need to make sure we’re covered because we’re never, probably never going to get to do this again. Sorry. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:32:13] my gosh, what that set you made and all the props and everything. 

Brett Stanley: [00:32:18] And that set melted it did it disintegrated within sort of two hours. So we, we had a very short window to shoot them. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:32:25] Wow. That’s amazing. How long did it make you take you to make that set?

Brett Stanley: [00:32:31] We, we spent about five days building it mainly because we had, we had one day where, they had, they originally had a different set designer on who hadn’t done underwater before and, and his designs work kind of work. So we kind of wasted a day with that. And then the next sort of three days.

We spent building the set and dressing it and all that sort of stuff. And then the fifth day was when we sunk it and shot it. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:32:56] Wow. Is that because there are specific materials you can’t use or you need to use underwater for sets like 

Brett Stanley: [00:33:03] Yeah. It was also the the first set I’d built in my new studio. So it was kind of a learning process of how. To build a set. That’s not going to sort of disintegrate. And what we found was that even cause we were painting the walls with paint was some paint would just flake off as soon as it got wet.

Other paint would just come. Would never dry. So it was, yeah, it was just kind of working out which products to use to be able to do it. So there’s a lot of trial and error in that.

shoot, particularly that I learned going forward. So now my sets don’t take anywhere near, as long as that to build, just because I did all that work.

Jamie Johnson: [00:33:40] Wow. That’s incredible. All the thought that goes into it. And the material I have, wouldn’t have even thought that paint that you’re using. And then do you go out and find, cause you had a bed and a dresser 

Brett Stanley: [00:33:53] Yeah, well, she actually did that. She, she found all the so Natalie from wise blood, she, she did all the production design, and she went to all the Goodwill places and, they would send me pictures of the. The furniture they were going to get. and I would let them know whether it was going to work or not.

And even just doing that shoot, like we had a single bed, like a metal bed frame with a mattress on it, but we learned pretty early on that mattresses don’t sink. So we ended up having to cut the mattress up and pull the guts out of it and, and all that sort of stuff, just to be able to get it to sink.

 I’m pretty good these days, knowing just from looking at a piece of furniture, whether it’s going to sink or float. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:34:28] That’s a, that’s a true, a niche talent.

Brett Stanley: [00:34:32] absolutely. Yeah. But it comes in handy. So, so when, cause I shoot a lot of music videos and I have productions come to me just to shoot it. But then I basically come on as a, as a consultant for them. Production design as well too, to teach them what’s going to work under the water because otherwise it can end up just being a waste of time because they’ve bought furniture that, you know, we will never get to sink. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:34:53] Oh, yeah, I could totally see that happening. I mean, spending five days on a set and then it doesn’t sync. 

Brett Stanley: [00:34:59] Yeah. I mean, I’ve had, I’ve had couches that we’ve put, you know, 80 pounds hands on and they still don’t sync. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:35:06] Oh, my goodness. Wow.

Brett Stanley: [00:35:08] So so that’s a lot of fun, especially when you’re on set and you’ve got, you know, you’ve only got one day to do it all and everyone’s standing around waiting for this couch to drown. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:35:16] Oh my gosh. 

Well, I’ll know where to go. If I ever need advice on what most see.

Brett Stanley: [00:35:22] exactly right? Yeah,

I’ve got to write a book.

Jamie Johnson: [00:35:26] Yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:35:26] D do you, do you tend to use a lot of props in your. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:35:29] I use fabric for backdrops sometimes. And then I’ll use sheer organza as for a bit of coverup for the model if they, if they want to be nude, but not totally nude and have a little bit of fabric. An address. It’s kind of a nice in-between to have a little fabric to play with. So they feel a little bit covered up.

Brett Stanley: [00:35:54] Right. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:35:55] Yeah. it also lends to the theorial look as well. 

Brett Stanley: [00:36:01] yeah, 

Like a bit of Texture. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:03] Texture. And some of them, it comes out looking like a painting, which I really love. I’m looking at old paintings and they use a lot of fabrics and those words nude, but they’ll have this beautiful tapestry or fabric. And 

Brett Stanley: [00:36:18] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:19] it was kind of a little bit like that maybe.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:22] Right. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:23] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:24] Are you doing any optical kind of changes as well? Are you putting anything in front of the lens when you’re shooting? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:29] Hm. 

Brett Stanley: [00:36:30] mess with the optics. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:31] You know, I have not done that, but I’ve been thinking about trying it. 

Brett Stanley: [00:36:36] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:37] Yeah, I have, I will on land, I’ll use prisons and things like that. Just try it. Well, always after that dreamy look to make something feel a little bit otherworldly. 

Brett Stanley: [00:36:48] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:36:49] And so when I’m on land, I feel a little bit like a fish out of water.

Like how can I make this feel a little more dreamy? And, so I’ll use things in that way, like a prism, or fabrics or something in front of the lens, but I’ve not tried to underwater yet. I have done some double exposures to layer and. 

Brett Stanley: [00:37:08] Oh, underwater. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:37:09] well, what I’ll do is I’ll take a roll of film and shoot flowers or nature or something, whatever the element is that I’m feeling.

And then take that roll of film, put it back in the camera and then shoot the underwater pictures. 

Brett Stanley: [00:37:24] oh, wow. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:37:24] so that, that kind of adds that layer of mystery. You know, how is it going to turn out? And when it turns out it’s just beautiful and exciting.

Brett Stanley: [00:37:34] So, how do you kind of, what sort of planning goes into something like that? Like, are you, do you have to shoot the first role? Like very contrasty So that there’s still some information from the second one can get through.

Jamie Johnson: [00:37:46] So when I first started doing it, I really had no idea how double exposures work. And it was really just what I was feeling. I was feeling like I just loved the. Flowers that I was seeing or this orange tree and orange blossoms. And, I would just go for a walk and take photos as I saw them and it was inspired.

And then, put them, put the roll back in the camera and then I did self portraits that way. And then now that I’ve learned that a few more things about double exposures by some of them not turning out, I’ve learned. Wherever the light hits on the film. You’re not really going to be able to see an image through that, the next go round.

So if it’s a really bright image, that’s kind of it, you know, you’re not going to appreciate the second exposure on that negative. And so I think I just lucked out the first several times I did it by shooting. Darker or just softer lighting that wasn’t very contrasty. And then the second exposure was really nice and soft with that flower tree or whatever I was doing.

So now I can be a little more intentional about it that I figured that out.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:05] Is it a case of, so one of the images kind of has to have less detail in it and kind of more blacks and more whites, so that the second image has the detail of that can come through. Is that how it works? 

Jamie Johnson: [00:39:18] Yeah. So the first image say you have a silhouette of a flower. That’s taking up most of the picture, but the bright sky behind it. And then the second image will just show up where the dark part was. 

Brett Stanley: [00:39:32] Right. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:39:33] Let’s silhouette part of the flower, and then the sky will still be blown out. You won’t really see the second image in the sky, but it’ll just show up where the dark part was.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:42] Okay. And then, so when you, so you do you take a roll of film? You’re exposed it. 24 times or whatever, and then you rewind it and then put it back in the camera or do you just rewind it and leave it in there and then bring it back in? Like, how do you line up the original images or the original shots with the next ones or, or do they overlap with the frames or the side or. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:40:06] Yes. So that was another trial and error thing for me. For some reason, I don’t really Google things before I do them. I just kind of throw myself up. 

Brett Stanley: [00:40:15] That’s good though. You like, that? Surprise? yeah, 

Jamie Johnson: [00:40:18] I love the surprise trial and error. That’s how I learned. And so yeah, the first several roles I did have that line in the middle of my image and I guess some of them had kind of worked out and I didn’t really mind it too much and, or they were just off just slightly, so I could crop it down and you didn’t really see it anymore.

And it’s really difficult the way I was doing it to get them to line up because I was using different cameras. So I’d shoot it in my regular camera on land first to get the flowers. Yeah. Rewind it and take that role and put it in my little underwater plastic point and shoot camera. And because the cameras were different, it was hard for me to figure out how to line them up.

And I’ve learned about this using a Sharpie to note where the, where the film was laying on your first role. 

When you load it and you get the film tight and ready to go, you mark it with a Sharpie where it is on there. And then when you put it in this camera again, you can make sure it lines up the same.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:26] that’s clever. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:41:27] Yeah. I thought so too, like this should help moving forward.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:32] Yeah. totally. Otherwise he kind of just blind, right? Like just trying to go. I go, I remember it. And he had, depending on how many Sprockets you’ve gone over and how many, all that sort of stuff. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:41:40] Exactly. 

Brett Stanley: [00:41:41] That’s amazing. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:41:42] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:43] are you teaching any of this stuff? Like you teaching film, underwater, film, photography, or self. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:41:48] Oh, I love, sharing and teaching and I have done a couple in-person workshops before that were really fun. I. Really, really shy. And so it was really big for me to get in front of people and talk, and it’s been really good practice. And so I did yeah. Field trip a couple of years, and then I did ND film lab.

They invited me to come speak. That was, those were so fun. And really when I can get out of my head about it and just. Appreciate the purpose of it and sharing and inspiring and connecting with other people. It’s so exciting. I love it so much. And so this last year, actually just a few months ago, at the beginning of 2021, I was connecting with a friend of mine and we were just over dinner sharing about our own experiences with self portraiture and how.

We both went through that period of time when we found self portraiture to be really helpful for us to connect with ourselves. And we’re like, wow, there’s something here. And we were just talking about it and getting really excited about. Just how powerful that experience was. And we felt like maybe we could offer a class or something and share this with other people, because there were a lot of things that took a lot of trial and error for us to learn.

And what have been really helpful for us to have someone guiding us or to have a tutorial of some kind or a community to talk to and share with about those experiences. So we started. Online workshop, where we go through with a group of people together. And the first one we did seven weeks and it’s just been incredible to see this community that we have, and I’m able to share what we’ve learned, not only photography wise, but emotionally going through the process of doing self portraits and what comes up 

Brett Stanley: [00:43:58] Yeah.

Jamie Johnson: [00:43:59] yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:00] Cause it must, must kind of open people up and your feelings about themselves. Cause it is, it is confronting, like I’ve done self portraits myself under the water, mainly just because I’m testing the lights, but then, you know, seeing yourself on film or on the camera, you know, you can’t, it’s not like looking at a mirror, you see yourself from different angles and, and and it must make you feel differently about yourself. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:44:22] Yeah, it really does. And then it’s like, what do you want to do with yourself? Portraits also, where do you want to go with it? What’s the purpose and what can you use it for? And we’ve explored those different things in our workshop, which is really fun and exploring. Connecting with your emotions more and giving some, some guidance and ways to do that and to find what different ways to find inspiration for yourself purchase shoot and how, because sometimes it’s kind of hard to sit in front of a camera when you don’t feel like you have a purpose.

Like I know there’s something here and what do I want to say? But how do I get started? Or how do I find my purpose? Because sometimes it’s in retrospect that we realized what we were wanting to express does not, doesn’t always come, at least for me. I don’t even realize it at the moment sometimes. And it’s retrospectively that I realized what I was going through and wanting to express, but sometimes it’s helpful to have some prompts to get started, to move through those things.

So we’ve helped with that. And then also, what do you want to bring into your life? You know, you can, it’s almost like I’ve found that with doing the underwater photography. It’s a way of, yeah. Dreaming about being undoable or things that seem outside of your reach. I think a lot of underwater photographers might feel that way.

It’s very other worldly. It’s very dreamlike, but it’s also possible 

Brett Stanley: [00:45:58] yeah, 

Jamie Johnson: [00:45:58] and 

Brett Stanley: [00:45:59] cause it is real. It is a real place. yeah, 

Jamie Johnson: [00:46:02] yeah, 

Brett Stanley: [00:46:02] it’s just not somewhere we visit. Right. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:46:04] Exactly. And so, yeah, it’s kind of neat because we, we talk about how to bring in different elements that you don’t think, maybe you don’t feel like you’re brave or confident or, feminine, or have these different elements.

Or maybe you feel like you might a little bit, but you don’t really know how to express them. And so we help with different prompts and, and ways to, to express those and then see them through a self portrait. And so real when you actually make a picture. 

Brett Stanley: [00:46:40] Yeah.

Jamie Johnson: [00:46:41] Yeah. 

Brett Stanley: [00:46:42] Yeah.

It it’s, it’s it’s an insight into your own self that you, that you haven’t seen before. 

Yeah. I love that.

Jamie Johnson: [00:46:47] Yeah. So that’s, that’s where I’ve been putting a lot of my energy this spring as this workshop that we’ve launched and that’s been, it’s been really fun.

Brett Stanley: [00:46:56] Yeah. So what’s coming up for you. Do you have projects that are in the works.

Jamie Johnson: [00:46:59] So we have, we’re going to be launching another workshop, a self portraiture workshop. This one, I think we’re going to do it a little bit longer and link we’re gonna do. Maybe like 12 weeks. And we’re also going to offer a shorter one for people who just kind of want to see what it’s like, but don’t want to do something that long.

And I also have some shoots coming up this summer that I’m really excited about. I have a couple in Maine 

and a couple in Texas, and then I’ll be coming out to California, August. September of 2021. So I’m really excited about that.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:40] Yeah. You’ll have to come and come and catch up. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:47:42] Yes, I would love to. 

Brett Stanley: [00:47:44] We have a big community here, so let’s let’s get something together. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:47:47] Ugh. I love coming out to California. The community there is incredible. I instantly feel that energized, sense of community and. Just instant inspired energy when I come out to California. And yeah, it’s like that the ground is vibrating with all the artists 

there. Something I don’t even know how to explain it.

Brett Stanley: [00:48:11] Yeah. Yeah. There are some vibrations here that that’s for sure. Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:48:15] And so I’m really excited to come out, back, back out to California. I’ve been wanting to move there for years and it just hasn’t happened. And so for now I just travel there and spend a couple months there 

Brett Stanley: [00:48:31] Yeah. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:48:31] try and see everyone while I’m there. And 

Brett Stanley: [00:48:33] Well, that’s great. Jamie, thanks so much. This has been so cool. Just hearing about it, the way you got into underwater and how you use the, you know, the self portraits as a, kind of, as a kind of therapy. It’s really cool. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:48:45] Well, thank you Brett, for having me. It’s been such an honor.

Brett Stanley: [00:48:49] That’s also, it’s an honor for me too. So let’s do this again sometime. 

Jamie Johnson: [00:48:53] Absolutely. I’d love to. 

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