By Liz Warwick
John Londono would never map out a strategic plan for his career. Instead, he seeks out cross currents and trusts that they’ll take him somewhere worth going
Split Run is a portfolio feature that uses the power of both print and the Internet. Featuring an original image-maker who does both stills and motion work, the portfolio appears in Applied Arts Magazine and online. Pick up the May/June 2013 issue of Applied Arts to see the print portfolio of John Londono.
Ask Montreal photographer John Londono what has contributed to his success and he ticks off the big three: timing, luck and doing what he loves. Yet, from his life story the picture that emerges is one of a man who has deliberately sought cross currents in his career that have pushed him sideways or seemingly backwards when other artists would have driven ahead.
A case in point: At the end of his studies in photography at the CEGEP de Vieux Montréal, he won the top prize in the Lux student competition for his series Altares, a tribute to his family roots in South America. (Londono was born in Venezuela, but moved with his mother to Quebec when he was almost five years old.)
Soon agencies were calling, wanting to see his portfolio. He turned them all down. “I didn’t have any commercial ambitions at all and I didn’t really have a commercial portfolio,” he recalls. “I wanted to be an artist.”
He went on to complete a bachelor of fine arts at Concordia University, but upon graduation, he shifted focus again. He decided to embrace commercial work, rejecting what he saw as a dispiriting pressure on artists to embark on a near-endless search for grant money.
Londono set out to create a different framework, combining commercial, fashion, editorial and personal work for a variety of media, from free magazines to ad agencies. He has no regrets about his choices. “When I started, my biggest challenge was to get pleasure from trying to translate someone else’s ideas and to put my touch on it.” In the end, he has found more freedom in the commercial work, in part because it gives him the financial means to pursue his personal projects.
Londono’s passionate interest in documenting Montreal’s music scene led him to videography. His photos of stars like Ben Harper, Beck, Oasis and The Kills, as well as francophone artists such as Pierre Lapointe, Ariane Moffatt and Malajube, have been featured on the covers of local cultural newsmagazines. Then, wanting to try something new, he talked his way into doing camera work for Mange ta ville (Eat Your City), a TV program exploring little-known artists and interesting spots in and around Montreal and Quebec City.
Londono admits he didn’t have the requisite skills to be behind the video camera. “All the first shows I did were out of focus and under-exposed. But I really learned the basics because we didn’t have any major equipment. It was documentary style –one camera, one sound man, one director.”
It was a chance encounter with the Vancouver-based musician known as Grimes (a.k.a Claire Boucher) that opened up new opportunities for video work. Londono saw Grimes perform at a small venue in Montreal and was mesmerized by her presence and energy. He went backstage and offered to work with her. “My intuition about Grimes was really strong. I knew she was the right person, that she would bring to the project something that would transform people,” he says. They worked together on the video for her song “Vanessa” and then for “Nightmusic,” shot in a fairy-tale-like forest of shadows and smoke.
Londono says working in a forest, which he has also done in his fashion videos for Denis Gagnon, gives him a visual freedom. “I get tired of having to compose in mathematical ways, in thirds, symmetrically,” he says. “In the forest, you have to embrace the chaos. It’s a way of putting yourself in danger.”
As a director of photography, Londono has produced work for MusiquePlus, a Quebec music television channel; musician and composer Peter Peter; and Montreal band Le Kid et les Marinellis. For the social service agency Centraide, he shot a much-discussed video featuring celebrities – including Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette and actor Luc Picard – in the buff with the tagline, “Underneath, we are all the same.”
He has also worked on fashion videos, a genre he calls “a world in itself, with its own language and aesthetic and vocabulary.” Clients have included the established designer Denis Gagnon and newcomers Samuel Mercure and Unttld. Londono describes these projects as being closer to experimental videos, and says he cherishes the liberty they give him. “Any kind of freedom I can get to explore new things is a gift.”
Interested in further film explorations, but with DP positions being less than plentiful, Londono has started directing videos for musicians including Polly Scattergood, Alfa Rococo, Peter Peter and Grimes. He is also spending time exploring what he says is missing from his visual vocabulary and experience: the analog roots of video. “I am working in 16 mm and Super 8, spending time in a darkroom with a specialist to work on real effects, not things that are post production,” he says. “I felt that was something that I was missing.”
Liz Warwick is a Montreal-based writer who is pursuing a master’s in education technology.