Photographs by Stella Johnson that focus on her 11-year immersive relationship with Greece are featured at the Leica Gallery in Boston Park Plaza Hotel March 7 though April 21. Johnson’s exhibition, titled “ZOI,” means life and coincides with the release of her book of the same name published by Wild Greek Press in Watertown, Massachusetts.
To prepare for this profile, I spoke with Johnson who was in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she is engaged in a photographic exploration that has similarities to “ZOI” in the sense that her dialogue emerges out of friendships and it has developed over time. Johnson, a second-generation Greek-American, saw and experienced strength of family as an immutable and cohesive social element in Greece. In most of the countries in which she has worked, Johnson has lived among the populace and immersed herself in their culture. As a photographer, she considers herself a storyteller. In “ZOI,” Johnson explores bonds of family and friendship across generations as an enduring constant in Greek life, despite the crisis of the country’s continued economic instability. Her photography of place
is about humanity and particularly cultural continuity passing from one generation to the next through behavior and ritual.
As a photographer, Johnson’s career has had quite a trajectory. She has worked as a photojournalist, documentary photographer and photographic storyteller in monographs. Her images have appeared in Fortune magazine and other publications, and her commercial jobs have included assignments from the Ford Foundation. She has taught photography at Lesley University and Boston University. Most recently, she has been conducting photography workshops in Greece, Mexico and Colombia. In 2003–2004, Johnson received a Fulbright Core Research Scholar Grant to Mexico, solidifying a relationship with the region that has continued into the present.
Johnson thrives on the social interaction that photography makes possible. She brings students into her creative practice to mentor them with the idea that some will want to make photography one of the primary joys of their lives. Along with the social engagement aspect, she’s interested in photography’s ability to relate environment and human dimension.
She has a lifelong connection with Boston and said that it is an honor for her as a photographer to be showing at Leica Gallery. This is especially true because only three shows a year are generated from the Boston gallery curatorial team; the other exhibitions from Leica’s corporate headquarters in Germany.