I imagine that Sarah Anne Johnson self-identifies as a photographer. What’s so refreshing about her work, beyond its weird, wistful, even wise vision, is that Johnson is nervy and curious enough not only to make straight and set-up photographs but also dolls, drawings, architectural models, and dioramas. In other words, Johnson is a photographer who allows her visionquest to extend beyond the boundaries of her chosen medium.
In “The Galapagos Project,” her second solo outing since her outstanding debut at this gallery two years ago, that openness to other materials, as well as the ambition of her vision, allows her to cross-breed genres like documentary, fiction, fantasy, nature photography, diary-writing, posters of cute guys, and even travel and adventure novels. Basically, Johnson is using photography as a type of philosophy, a way of thinking—that is, mainly as a tool, not a crutch.
For this show Johnson presents more than 60 photos, a handful of drawings, and a grouping of small sculpted figures. All are based on her recent visits to the Galapagos Islands, where young, idealistic fellow travelers volunteer to clean the local environment in the face of encroaching civilization. You get the sweet pathos, grungy glamour, camaraderie, and hopelessness of the endeavor. There are pictures of kids clearing invasive undergrowth, butchering animals that aren’t indigenous to the region, or just staring into space as if they were lost. Johnson’s way of zeroing in on the private aspects of this global thinking is also brought home in a huge model of the bare-bones cabin these devoted souls inhabit. You can almost hear the crickets and smell the bad body odor.
It’s great that Johnson isn’t fenced in by one medium. Still, there’s a scattershot quality to this otherwise excellent show that suggests that she does need to hone her skills in all of her media in order for her to be the kind of quadruple-threat artist that I think she has every possibility of becoming.