Photographers can be a pretty hackneyed horde. They’ve all channelled their inner Kevin Carter while clicking furiously at a woebegone African child, sworn they’ve captured the perfect sunset in some majestic middle of nowhere and imagined they’ve immortalized the most poignant hobo in all the land.
Enter Chris Johnston in a photographic flurry of menstrual pads, screaming golf balls and suicidal eggs, however clichéd give ways to completely cool in “Three Degrees off Plumb”; his unabashedly absurd exhibition currently in house at the Franco Namibian Cultural Centre Café.
Fresh from winning the grand prize in Namibia’s first Month of Photography for his thought provoking submission on people and territories, it seems Johnston has taken a slight detour off his beaten path of people, landscapes and animals to present something full of fun, frivolity and a far cry from his modus photographic.
“If I concentrate on one subject or category of work, I will become stale and bored outta my gourd,” says Johnston affably. “I guess if I were homeless, wandering around in the street muttering about eggs and golf balls, they would haul me away, pump me full of Thorazine and lock me in a rubber room.”
Mercifully, with his self-confessed eccentricities safely framed in photos and the threat of rubber rooms averted; Johnston is free to let his imagination run wild in curious compositions and radical reductions.
“Egg could not cope with the discovery that chicken came first,” a photograph that depicts an egg dripping yoke and still clutching a gun after blowing its cracked brains out, is the piece that best presents Johnston’s mad meanderings. Playing on the old conundrum “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Johnston mixes stock philosophy with a dark sense of humour to create a cute composition that would not be out of place on an episode of “Annoying Orange.”
Johnston continues in this tone in his unwitting homage to the late Steve Jobs, features photographs such as “iBook, iPod and iPad” which distil the most ubiquitous gadgets in the modern world into their laughable, literal reductions. Indeed, under Johnston’s cunning camera, an Apple iPod becomes a bitten apple astride a staring seedpod; an iBook is nothing short of an eye atop an apple inside a book and - in the most disturbing of the troika - an iPad is reduced to an eye glaring at you from the folds of a menstrual pad.
“No one hears their little cries for help,” furthers this insane vein in its depiction of a golf ball screaming for mercy as a golf stick looms behind it ready to whack it into oblivion.
“How do we know that golf balls or balls in general don't plead for mercy in the instant before we clobber them?” says Johnston in a way that makes one remember the conviction with which we once thought our toys came to life upon the closing of a door.
So go his successes, however, there is a slight discontinuity in pieces such as “And there was light,” “The Wedding Party,” “Petrus” and “WTF happened to me”.
In as much as their human and animal subject matter is less comical and seems trussed in a tone that has little to do with the aforementioned images, there is a sense when looking at these submissions.
A few others have the cohesion and sense of comic purpose of the exhibition falters. And, Johnston would have done well to continue building on the concepts and absurdity of golf balls, eggs and maxi pads to create a consistent brand of humour.
With that said and for the most part, “Three Degrees off Plumb” is fruity, fun and indicative of a huge sense of humour, a light-heartedness and quirk that positions Johnston as a picturesque pleasure when it comes to foolery in the photographic.
As for Johnston’s own hope for his exhibition he says: “I hope that some photographs make them laugh, some take a while to figure out, some they simply don't get till perhaps weeks later and some stop them cold and make them think. But first and foremost, I hope they simply come and see, really see, which is far different from having a look ...”
Thus you have it, whether you are a fan of his previous work or just endlessly enthralled by the absurd, you should certainly go and see, look or take a diplomatic look-see at “Three Degrees off Plumb”; crazy.
“Three Degrees off Plumb” opening was at the FNCC Cafe from the day of this interview and ran until the 11th of November 2011.