“If there’re gonna be 100 people in my apartment, there are gonna be twenty or so who want to be exhibitionists and expose themselves to express themselves…”
By Owen Campbell, ASX, May 2015
Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Eric Johnson moved to New York in the late ‘80’s and apprenticed to a photographer before starting his own career. His portfolio, while diverse, is heavily populated with musicians: Biggie, Lil’ Wayne, Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, Maxwell.
Lately, he hosts a sort of salon in his home and studio in Hell’s Kitchen, known, if it has a name, by its Instagram handle, @upstairsaterics. To call it a queer, hip hop scene is easy but inaccurate and limiting. It’s wider than that and draws from many circles while remaining anchored in hip hop, drag, fashion, art. The subjects, like Le1f, Don Christian, Cakes Da Killa, Juliana Huxtable, and Honey Dijon, are mostly performers in one way or another. And those that don’t typically perform for an audience perform for the camera. “If there’re gonna be 100 people in my apartment, there are gonna be twenty or so who want to be exhibitionists and expose themselves to express themselves,” Johnson says.
Johnson is old enough to remember a more raw New York City when kids were selling their bodies for money.
Johnson is old enough to remember a more raw New York City, when, he says, kids were selling their bodies for money. He sees the same look in a lot of the kids he shoots now, but they’re able to package that rawness in a pop way. And they’re successful as well. Le1f sells out shows across the world and Juliana Huxtable is the face of the current New Museum Triennial. On one hand it seems Johnson is building a photographic collection of a contemporary Carl Van Vechten, famous for his photographs of artists and writers from the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. On the other, Johnson seems unconcerned with fame, notoriety or sex appeal. “Kids in the hood know that I’m a real dude, kids downtown know that I’m a real dude too and we’re creating something that lets all those people gel together.” He adds, “Game recognize game.”
ASX’s Owen Campbell is an an artist and writer from Wilkinsburg, PA.
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(All rights reserved. Text @ Owen Campbell. Images @ Eric Johnson.)