A one-month residency at Studio Kura in Itoshima Japan brought an unexpected take on life in that country for the latest photographic series from Pia Johnson. Based alone in a 100-year-old mostly traditional home, she was suffering from insomnia due to jetlag and spent hours wandering around the house, and the neighbourhood. The result is “In a dim light...”, an exhibition currently showing at Edmund Pearce Gallery in Melbourne. It’s a continuation of a fine art photographic career that’s gaining quite a momentum. Her first series of works were purchased and put on show by the NGV. Since then she was a finalist in the 2014 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award, Onward Compe ’12 photography competition at Project Basho Gallery in the US, and the Ballarat Internataional Foto Biennale. Pia has a Bachelor of Creative Arts (visual arts) and a Diploma of Modern Languages (Mandarin), and is in the midst of completing a Masters of Fine Arts.

Which five words best describe you? Passionate, opinionated, workaholic, emotional and a homebody.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I didn’t really know what I wanted to do; all I knew was that I wanted to do something artistic. I started in textiles and installation, and then worked in communications, and finally made my way to photography. It was the one activity that I kept turning my hand to and spending my free time thinking about and doing. I now take portraits of artists, document theatre performance as well as create my own fine artwork – it’s always dynamic and full.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? To trust your instincts, and always keep growing.

What was the starting point for this exhibition? Last year I spent a month doing an artist residency at Studio Kura in Itoshima, a rural town in southwest Japan. I lived by myself in a 100-year-old largely traditional house and it became the starting point for the exhibition. The weather was very changeable, and with the time difference and being in a foreign place I struggled with insomnia, so spent many evenings up aimlessly wandering around in the house, and outside in the neighbouring streets.

What’s your proudest career achievement? This would have to be when the NGV bought and exhibited my first photography series Who’s the Chinese lady that picks you up from school? (2009). It was a surreal experience, and something I still have to pinch myself about.

What’s been your best decision? Pursuing a career as an artist. It is one of the most challenging and fulfilling life choices, and I wouldn’t change it for a minute.

Who inspires you? My partner Paul inspires me – he is a performance lighting designer and theatre maker. There are also lots of artists that inspire my work; at the moment the key ones are Anselm Kiefer, Fiona Tan, Todd Hido and Simryn Gill.

What are you passionate about? Making pictures, engaging in good conversation and gardening.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? There are many people – artists, composers and writers, but if I had to choose only one then I would have liked to meet artist Dorothea Tanning.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? There are many dreams that I’d like to achieve in my lifetime, some include publishing a book, having a retrospective and growing old taking photographs.

What are you reading? I’m re-reading Raymond Carver’s short stories, they are bleak and intimate, and I’m so glad to be revisiting them.

images courtesy of pia johnson

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