Olivia Johnston is an artist based in Ottawa, Canada; she is the Photographic History Instructor at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa. She was shortlisted for the inaugural New Generation Photography Award in 2018, and was a finalist for the RBC Emerging Artist Award in 2017. Her work in lens-based media includes photographic and multimedia work; Johnston makes use of numerous genres, including studio portraiture, self-portraiture, landscape, and still life, to explore and question gender, the body, beauty, vulnerability, memory, art history, and the photographic image itself.
Her work has been displayed nationally, including in the CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto as part of a two-person Featured Exhibition; within the Ottawa Art Gallery; and as a part of the City of Ottawa’s collection. She has also shown her work internationally, in New York, NY; Portland, OR; Saint-Louis, Senegal; and London, England. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and books, and is held in national and international private and public collections.
Artist Statement, Treasures
Photography has a curious relationship with the habit of collecting. To photograph something is to own it; “it turns people into objects” as famously stated by Susan Sontag in her seminal text On Photography. However, memories and experiences also become objects when placed before the lens, to be collected and kept. Photographs - whether digital or physical - are collectable objects themselves, and often stand as mementos of people, places and things.
From young childhood, I have held onto items that had meaning for me but little or no monetary value. This habit took a more obsessive turn when adulthood approached, and I began to experience loss and trauma. Objects and photographs have often acted as melancholic memory aids for me when the people or circumstances associated with them are no longer accessible. Reminiscent of the way in which photographs work upon us, a particular object might become devoid of meaning when its associated memory is lost. Nostalgic objects and photographs thus are both a fascinating way of representing the slippery nature of meaning itself.
As such, my habit of saving valueless items has intersected with my artistic practice. I collect objects that are visually compelling; have special significance to me; are representative of a particular experience in my life; or are a combination of these three. Using the scanner as my photographic tool,I create paradoxical representations of my collectibles: the objects I present become two-dimensional, yet appear hyper-realistic, echoing the falsehoods inherent in memory itself. The objects used in these works may have deep personal significance for me; they may also be ‘found objects’ that are not personally significant. For my viewers, meaning thus emerges from the way in which they personally understand and relate to the objects, images, and texts in these works.