Today I want to introduce y’all to a good friend of mine, Sandy Johanson. She was extremely helpful to me when I was learning film photography at Brookdale, especially when it came to printing in the dark room. Beyond that, she is without a doubt THE most prolific artist I know. Every time I’d show up at Brookdale she’d have another set of images, gorgeous images as it turns out, that she was working on.
All of that is well and good, but the reason I wanted to do this article about her is because she has come up with a very unique and wonderful idea…..jewelry made from camera parts! I know at least some of you are thinking, “How gimmicky.” Well, I dare you to think that when you see the pieces she makes, some images of which you can see below.
I decided to do this in sort of an email “interview”. I asked a few questions, and Sandy responded. It doesn’t have the feel of a real interview since we were not discussing in real time, but nonetheless I think its better that Sandy speak for herself, so without further adieu:
ME: How did you find out you were an artist?
SANDY: Thanks for thinking of me that way. It’s hard to find labels to describe yourself. When I graduated from college with a degree in painting, I thought of myself as a painter. When I got a job working at Brookdale in the photography department, and began showing my work, I thought of myself as a photographer. Now I’m not sure what label would apply, but “artist” is nice!
Call me a late bloomer, I don’t think I really hit my stride until my 50’s. I have made many images and think some of them are pretty good, but I like to think in terms of connected bodies of work and that didn’t really start happening for me until my late 40’s early 50’s. I get super depressed when I’m not making something, so I’m quite prolific. Not all of it is good, but I’m always working on something.
ME: How did you find photography?
SANDY: When I moved back east with my husband I decided to take some classes at Brookdale. I started out with Communication Design classes but as soon as I took a photography class I was hooked. I worked for several years for my friend Jeff Martin in his studio. He’s a great photographer and a total inspiration to me. Then I met Alison Rossiter, also a great friend and photographer. She has done more for my career than anyone, starting with hooking me up with Sarah Morthland when she opened her first gallery in Chelsea. I got my job at Brookdale somewhere in the midst of all of that and was surrounded with great photographers and inspiring students.
ME: How did you get the idea to make this jewelry?
SANDY: I was making some jewelry out of recycled materials (old buttons, bobbins, stamps) for the Monmouth Museum. I think Erik might have suggested using cameras. The first camera I took apart was my Dad’s Argus. I still have a piece from it that I wear. I made a necklace out of enlarger screw and pearls and showed it to Alison Rossiter, she bought it on the spot. She then showed it to her gallery dealer Stephen Bulger in Canada, and he suggested I get in touch with Daile Kaplan from Swann Auctions. She has quite a collection of all things photographic. Encouraged greatly by her response, along with Alison’s, and the many cameras Alison has subsequently given me, I started taking them apart. I had a jewelry class when I was in college, and have learned a lot about taking things apart and putting them together from my husband Erik, who knows everything!
ME: How do you decide which parts go into a piece?
SANDY: I usually have a part that I am focused on as a centerpiece, and I build from there. In earlier work, I had just one main object, like a beautiful lens and a chain. Now I am having more fun combining pieces, into kind of a camera remnants charm necklace. I spend quite a bit of time finding the pieces I want to go together. Its sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, you try different things until you find one that fits. I always like the piece I just made the best until I make the next one!
ME: How long does it take to create one?
SANDY: It takes a very long time to take a camera apart if you don’t want to damage anything. Most of the cameras have all of the working parts tucked safely away under the skin of leather, and so many screws, you would not believe it! I love taking them apart and was completely awed by the machinery and workmanship. I tried to set up a system for keeping parts together so I could identify them if needed but there was just too much. The sorting was a nightmare. I ended up with large bins of just screws, just washers, just gears etc. The parts that seemed fragile went into other bins, lenses here, lens rings there. So while the putting together of a piece may just take a few hours, the whole process is much, much longer.
ME: Why are you doing this?
SANDY: I am quite obsessive in most things I do. I need to make things to stay feeling alive. I love learning new things, testing myself. While it is wonderful to exhibit and sell work…..necessary, in fact…..the greatest pleasure is in the making of it.
That said, through my contact with Daile Kaplan I was able to meet Ursula Ilse Neuman, the Curator of Jewelry at the Museum of Art and Design. She offered some much needed advice on the construction of my jewelry, and asked me to make some pieces for an upcoming exhibit on jewelry and photography titled Multiple Exposures: Jewelry and Photography.
I never thought anything like that would happen, we will see where things go from here.
Here are 3 of her necklaces, as featured on her website:
Are They For Sale?
All of the above pieces, plus many more, once again, are for sale on Sandy’s website, where you can also see some of her photographic work. If you’re looking for a great gift idea, I don’t think you could do any better than these! And no, I am NOT getting anything for this. I would never do that. I just think this is a great and original idea, so I wanted to let y’all know about Sandy and her work!