Megan Johnson was the Youth winner of the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. Since she won the Award, she has since has been exploring her passion of photography to the utmost to its fullest. She currently works at a local product and marketing company as their product photographer. S, she is also her school’s production photographer for all of their theater productions, and she has her own in-home studio.
Megan is a seventeen-year-old from a small town on the east coast of the USA. She is an adoptee from South Korea and is a current senior in high school, where she participates in her school’s theater program, jazz band, wind ensemble, and athletic teams. She has completely self-taught in the field of photography - she started with a disposable film camera at a very young age. Despite many years of crafting her skills, she didn’t start to really buckle-down in the photographic field until about three years ago when she started to take outdoor portraits for friends and family.
We talked to her about the different projects that she has been working on and how winning the Award meant that she could finally honor her late mother’s legacy.
- Tell us what you’ve been up to since becoming the Youth winner of the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards
After returning home in April following my trip to London for the Awards, I worked as the production photography assistant for my high school’s musical production of “School of Rock.” There I was taught how to shoot studio headshots properly, take themed group photos and was mentored to take over the position this year.
Now, as the new production photographer, I am responsible for both actor and technician headshots, the themed group photo of the actors and the occasional behind the scenes photographs. My high school is currently putting on a production of “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” which is an entertaining tale of life in a post-apocalyptic era.
In addition to production photography, I am also working as a product photographer for EDR and Associates, a custom product and marketing company. Here I have creative liberty to create content for the company’s social media platforms and have just recently finished an Adult Swim, The New Yorker, and Hallmark Channel product shoot.
Lastly, one of the most exciting things that I’ve been up to since becoming the Youth winner is starting up my own studio photography business. Over the summer I remodeled an empty bedroom space in my home into an in-home studio, complete with hanging backdrops, studio lights and an exquisite properties and equipment storage system. I have also begun traveling with my business - venturing around my state to music performances, sports games, and outdoor venues.
What did winning the Award mean to you?
Winning the Award meant that I could finally honor my late mother’s legacy.
My explanation is long, as I wrote it for my college essay, but it’s also the only way I can think to explain this Award’s importance to me.
I stepped off the stage sailing on a sea of deafening applause, the foreign-feeling appreciation carrying me to a reception room where an interviewer stood, patiently waiting for his first award recipient of the night. He steered me toward a leather-bound hotel chair, gesturing for me to sit as he tweaked the matte-metallic camera in front of me. Sitting down with grace, he asked me the same question that dozens had before, “What does success in the Sony World Photography Awards mean to you?”
My response was simple: “It means that I am capable of finally being able to honor my late mother’s legacy.”
My mother―the woman who fought for her life but made sure to never show an ounce of weakness when I was around.
The radiation treatments burned her and tortured her like a vicious sunburn and the chemo drained her energy and stole her relaxation like a master thief. Cancer stripped her of her voice, of her golden hair, and of herself like bleach to color but she never let me notice.
Beside her bed in her hospital room, I stood quietly in my evergreen plaid skirt, my old black shoes a blemish on the reflective floor beneath me. The plastic drain from her surgery was slowly filling with thick brown blood as the clock on the wall ticked menacingly fast. Her brilliant, periwinkle eyes showed no indication that our time together was fleeting, instead, they accompanied her glowing smile in greeting as she peered at me softly.
My memory falters as to what happened next, just as the mountain of photo albums boasts an expanding cave during and after the time of her illness. My mother’s eyes were the storytellers of our lives. They saw even the most insignificant moments as significant and she made sure to capture each and every one as many times as possible with her third eye--her camera. She took photographs as often as a hummingbird flutters its wings leaving a noticeable lack in such when she fell ill. It was her oxygen, photography, and when she stopped breathing, we knew it had vanished with her.
I made it my life’s work from there forward to become as accomplished as my mother was with photography, to try and fill the expanding cavern, but the goal of reaching her level always laid just off the bow out of reach. It wasn’t until April 19, 2018, twelve years, one month and nine days after her passing, when I stood on the stage in London that I had finally reached the peak of Everest.
As they announced the winner for the Sony Youth Photographer of the Year, my name echoed throughout the ballroom. I snuck my way through the jungle of chairs and attendees, rising up on to the stage atop a wave of emotion.
“Thank you. I would like to give a huge thanks to my dad who flew over six-thousand miles to pick me up in Barcelona and chaperone me to London. I’d also like to thank the World Photography Organization for putting together such an amazing event and Sony for sponsoring it. This is honestly something that I’d never thought I’d be able to be here for and if it wasn’t for my mom I wouldn’t even know what photography was, so a huge thanks to her.” I stumbled through my thank you speech, heart racing like Secretariat, yet my disappointment in my word choice weighed heavily upon me over-shadowing my excitement as I was escorted backstage. I had one more chance to give the proper thank you, the proper recognition, that the woman whose life I’ve dedicated mine to preserving deserved.
Thus, when the interviewer asked me that same question that dozens had before, “What does success in the Sony World Photography Awards mean to you?”
My response was simple: “It means that I am capable of finally being able to honor my late mother’s legacy.”
My mother--the woman whose strength and skill will never vanish from my heart.
How was the experience coming to London, meeting other photographers, attending the exhibition and the Awards night?
The experience of coming to London was, for me, one of the most stressful things I’ve had to handle. Prior to the Awards ceremony I was on a school trip to Spain, from which I was not allowed to leave, without my father coming to pick me up in person from Barcelona. The morning of my departure date to London, I was on the bus to La Sagrada Familia when I get a phone call from my dad. It was 2am back in the US and his flight to Barcelona was cancelled and he had to be there in approximately eight hours for us to catch our flight to London. After a good five-minute cry, I had another flight booked and ready to go which my band director offered to pay for, at nine-hundred and forty three dollars, since my debit card didn’t work overseas. However, once the stress of almost not being able to make the Awards vanished, I fell in love with the city.
For someone who has been stuck in their small town in the middle of nowhere all her life, seeing the city of London was incredible, as was meeting other photographers. I had never had contact with anyone in the professional or even student fields of photography before coming to the Awards ceremony in April, so being able to speak and meet others from all over the world with different backgrounds was absolutely incredible. We all differed from each other, yet we were all there because we held the same passion for photography; a passion and diversity clearly shown through all of the amazing pieces of work.
The exhibition was breathtaking. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming emotions I felt knowing that my piece, my simple iPhone photograph, was mounted on a wall with the greats of the photography world surrounding it on all sides. I could’ve stayed in the Somerset House for hours studying each photograph over and over; I wish I could’ve stayed longer. In fact, I recently went to New York City to visit the Award’s traveling award exhibition in Sony Square, just to be able to see the photos in person once again.
Everything passed by in a blur, but the memories and connections that I made I can replay for a lifetime without a haze.
Why do you enjoy photography?
I enjoy photography because it allows me to physically hold on to memories I’ve encountered. Photography also allows me to turn to someone as say, “here, this is what I’ve seen. This is what I’ve imagined.”
Photography is a gateway to the past and an infinite present. With photos, I am able to understand life and lives before me in a way that the history books can’t teach with words; They allow stories to be passed on generation after generation with clear emotion and intent.
Who are your biggest photographers when looking for inspiration?
My biggest photographers when looking for inspiration are Sorelle Amore, Hayden Pedersen, and Candida Höfer.
Sorelle Amore is a social media influencer and photographer who focuses on a photographic style called “the advanced selfie.” This particular style is my personal favorite as I love the idea of having complete creative liberty by being both the photographer and the subject.
Hayden Pedersen is a YouTuber and photographer who regularly posts videos of photography challenges, tutorials, and photography blogs. Hayden is one of my biggest inspirations because he is not afraid of risk and adventure when photographing.
Candida Höfer is an architectural photographer and the recipient of the Awards’ 2018 Outstanding Contribution to Photography prize.I aspire to create work as encapsulating as Candida’s, as her photos transport you into the space they capture flawlessly.
What’s next for you?
For me, I have big plans. I am considering enlistment in my country’s Navy where I hope to be exploring the mass communications field with a specialization in photography. Additionally, during my deployment and shortly thereafter, I will be pursuing a bachelor's degree in photography with hopes to eventually earn my master’s degree to teach the art form to future generations. But, for now, I will be continuing my work as a product, production, and independent photographer, enjoying the photographic field to the fullest.