Photographer seeks to connect the dots

Larre Johnson's photography is on display at Penelope's Café, showcasing pieces that are the result of his travels and observations of the world around him. However, it is his day job that plays a pivotal role in how Johnson views his surroundings.

"My full-time day job is as a partner in an advertising agency called Big Honkin' Ideas. We've been in business for 15 years," Johnson said. "I've been a writer over the years, working on television, radio and print. A lot of commercial photography is involved."

Johnson's most well-known project was a storyboard for a commercial for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America of an egg on a frying pan with the now-famous line: "This is your brain on drugs."

Johnson said his photography skills blossomed after he purchased a digital camera. And, when his mother-in-law moved to France 12 years ago, he was afforded a greater opportunity to shoot abroad.

"My photography isn't from a technical aspect," he said. "I love to shoot with existing light. I try to find the light that I like, shoot samples and move around the subject to see what I can get. Several of the shots are in the Louvre in Paris, where you get some of the best lighting because they're set up by professionals to highlight the subject."

Growing up in Columbia, Mo., Johnson studied English literature and journalism in advertising at the University of Missouri. "Whenever I teach my advertising classes, I talk about the importance of a liberal arts education because I incorporate my critical thinking of how I break stuff down," He said.

Johnson applies the same critical thinking toward his photography. "I'm sort of curious if it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words. A camera is more immediate than writing. With photography, you can find the light and composition; look at familiar things and capture them in a way that is surprising and unfamiliar," he explained.

Johnson put his thoughts into practice when he photographed the Eiffel Tower, "from the passenger seat of a cab with the window rolled down. I had no idea I was going to get that picture.

"There is always an element of serendipity because the camera reads light differently than what you might see with you eye," he said. "Technology has allowed me to do something I've been interested in for a long time because a computer can adjust light or sharpen a picture."

His travels to France have given Johnson the opportunity to go back to a familiar place, yet see it differently each time. "I like to try to capture the character of the people, document what the countryside is like," he said. "The more you travel and expose yourself to people, the more interesting you can be and more you will have to talk about."

Johnson and his wife Meredith, an illustrator of children's books, have lived in La Cañada for 22 years and Johnson said he draws much local inspiration. "We go hiking up to Oak Grove Park. A lot of interesting stuff happened with the rain and fires over the past few years. I spent a fair amount of time shooting the flora and fauna of the Upper Arroyo."

With a career that spans 30 years and more than 100 projects behind him, Johnson plans to keep pursuing his photographic endeavors and draw from what is around him. "It's important to get a body of work together and present it. There is always opportunity in something that people haven't connected the dots on."


Where: Penelope's Café, 1029 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada

When: Through Feb. 8

Hours: 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

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