Eric Johnson by
“There’s clearly a reason why kids are hanging out here all the time, everyone is here for s different reasons,” observes photographer Eric Johnson. There are so many stories in his midtown loft, which transforms in many ways. It’s a gallery, a disco, a lounge, a photo studio, a multi-dimensional space animated by a cast of characters and a beautiful Bengal cat named Cooley. Oh yea, it’s also his home.
Johnson first moved in the building six years ago. He remembers, “I had been looking for a place that I could do everything with. I saw a listing for the apartment and I knew it was what I wanted from the photos so I called up the guy and told him, ‘This is my place. No seriously, this is my apartment and I am coming to get it.’ That was the one below this one, now I live on the top floor and the advantage of being up here is it’s better than fight with two neighbors because we’re so loud.”
Music is very telling. In the center of Johnson’s apartment is a DJ set up, two turntables stand in front of a wall lined with vinyl. From classic disco & early hip-hop to the latest underground electronic dance records, Johnson spins to get the crowd dancing. The effect is magnified by a roaring fireplace a disco ball, and most vivid of all, upon the wall line grids upon grids of black and white inkjet portraits from Johnson’s HEADS series.
He recalls, “Once I moved in, I noticed that the space attracted so many HEADS that I decided to shoot portraits of everyone and it blossomed into this really big thing.” The HEADS adorn the walls, creating a space that is at once filled with images of people, themselves in equal parts performer and spectator to the scenes that unfold here.
The effect is mesmerizing. The photographs, like the people that come and go through this apartment, are unusually beautiful, fresh and youthful. Combined with the candy-colored lights bouncing off the disco ball and music that makes you move, Johnson’s studio recalls New York’s glorious loft parties, attracting a sundry blend of young men and women who come alive on camera—and off.
Singer and performer Kristina Kovach, one of the regular HEADS, observes, “Eric’s home is a place of creativity and collaboration all its own. Its always a comfortable environment and I consider it my second home. It’s a common ground for best friends, strangers, and artists of all kinds. The inspiration and the vibe is what feeds all the heads that make their way to Eric’s. It is a place of productivity, knowledge, and genuine energy.”
DJ Messkid adds, “Eric and his space allow me to feel comfortable being my weird self and helped me develop as a DJ. I first met Eric when he was photographing me for The New York Times. The instant I came into his apartment I couldn’t stop staring at the walls and then at his record collection. We really hit it off and I kept coming back ever since. It’s always such a positive experience; you never know who you will meet or what you will learn.”
Johnson’s location, in what was once known as Hell’s Kitchen, combines a kind of proximity that is the essence of Manhattan. And yet, this city is always changing. Johnson observes, “When you see these documentaries from the 70s with punk and hip hop there was this great vibe and artists could afford to be in the City then. It seems like Manhattan is zero that and there aren’t as many places to hang out. I think this space contributes to New York having a bit of a vibe, and I feel that is my responsibility to keep that going. So many people come through are buzzing about something that’s happening here and I think there should be these places over the city Some of my younger friends who are coming up are doing things in Brooklyn because that’s all they can afford but in the City there isn’t any creative hang out vibes for kids who don’t have tons of money. I feel like: This is for New York.”
And Johnson knows New York. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Johnson first began photographing his friends after being accepted into Newark’s Arts High School. Johnson has shot numerous album covers including the iconic Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. His work has also appeared in Vogue, W, Dazed & Confused, Rolling Stone, and Flaunt among many others. In addition to the HEADS series, Eric uses his space for select commercial projects including Ellen Page and Alan Cumming for Dazed & Confused, fashion stories for Flaunt, and subjects such as Maxwell, Gus van Sant, and Paul Schrader.
Johnson’s loft is a place where thousands come, and at the center is Eric Johnson, keeping along. An intimacy exists, thanks to the ambiguous and undefined vibe that the goes from night to day and back again, never knowing what the next encounter will bring.
Rosie Perez gives Eric Johnson and his parties a shout out on the January 5, 2010 episode of “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3dNzCALeSw.
A video of the parties can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yamXdeLaeBQ