Daniel Johnston's lo-fi life

New York photographer Jung Kim on her five years shooting lo-fi godfather Daniel Johnson

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The NY-based photographer Jung Kim's latest project was a long one. Shot over five years, Daniel Johnston: Here is a photographic study of the cult artist and musician, offering a very personal look into his life. Kim, a Parsons School of Design graduate, has been taking pictures since her teenage years. Surrounded by artists and musicians during her studies, they became her subject of choice, and the candid and personal images her signature aesthetic. Collaborating with Johnston on the project funded by his fans on Kickstarter, her photography is continuously intimate and honest. The culmination of the project that grew into a friendship since its beginning in 2008 throws light not only on Johnston's life on the road, but also captures the lo-fi musician’s life at home in Waller, Texas. 

Dazed Digital: How did you come to meet Daniel Johnston?
Jung Kim: I loved Daniel’s work and really wanted to work with him in whatever capacity. In 2008 I reached out to his brother Dick who manages him day-to-day. I received a reply 4 months later, a day before his show in Brooklyn, New York, with an invitation to come shoot. Coincidentally, my friends of The Capitol Years were the opening and backing band for Daniel at that very show so I would have sneaked in anyway! It was meant to be.

DD: What was it about him that made you want to embark on the project?
Jung Kim: 
I knew of him for a while but didn’t go in-depth into his work until I saw his drawings at the Whitney Biennial – they stuck with me and I simply wanted to know more to understand the person behind the drawings. This project wasn’t really a project at first – it was only supposed to be one shoot. Photography is a serious language to me and when I started photographing Daniel, he immediately understood this, and he allowed me to see his vulnerability and so many layers to his story. I couldn’t put my camera down and the more I shot, the deeper the story became. Five years later, here we are.

DD: What were some of your favourite memories throughout the time spent together?
Jung Kim:
Aside from the many wonderful hours of listening to him rehearse, sound-check and perform, to watching him draw one great drawing after another, some of my favorite memories with Daniel have been when he is showing me his incredible collection of albums, movies on VHS tapes, and comic books. He very well could declare his entire house as a museum. I once confessed to him that I hadn’t watched Star Wars. He wasn’t disappointed, but rather excited that he was going to be the one to play me the original VHS tape release. He popped the tape into the player and it began with a long interview with George Lucas. I gave up before the interview ended so Daniel sent me home with a Star Wars trilogy VHS box set as if to send me off with homework. He inscribed the box cover, “Star Wars Forever.”

DD: How would you describe your personal ventures in photography?
Jung Kim:
Photography is a way for me to communicate, understand, learn, and seek some sort of beautiful or ugly truth within a story from other creative beings whether they’re a five-year long documentary project or a 20-minute portrait shoot. I find people fascinating as the source of all of these intangible emotions like hope, sadness, joy and pain… and I think artists and musicians in particular have an intense desire to share these feelings. It’s a privilege to be able to draw them on film, and try to move and connect others in some way, positively or negatively – I really enjoy that challenge. 

DD: What's next?
Jung Kim: 
We’re working on traveling the exhibition to few more cities after London, but the future will definitely include more muses and hopefully more books as well.

'Daniel Johnston - Here' will launch at 18 Hewett Street on Thurs 30th May - To sign up, submit your name here.

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