Emily Johnston

Emily is a photographer and artist in New York.
website / instagram

01    Story: What’s the best story you heard this month?

Nothing stands out, anecdotally, but one story I heard again and again in December, especially on social media, was about what a terrible year 2017 had been, and how it couldn’t be over soon enough. It’s almost like someone started telling it that way and then no one could stop. And I get it. The echoes and pulses of the world at large —politically, socially, and environmentally — have been distressing at best, and often terrifying. And yet, none of these things are new: abuses of power of all kinds, political corruption, the rule of corporate interests, the deterioration of the planet … it seems to me the only thing that’s changed is their visibility and our consequent inability to ignore them any longer. What I see when I look at the last year is something like toxins coming to the surface in a cleansing process. The future depends on what we put into the world now, how we carry ourselves in it, what story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Rebecca Solnit, in her brilliant, timely book, "Hope in the Dark," writes of another struggle in a another era. “By acting as if they were free, the people […] became free.

02    Nature: An encounter with the natural world

I spent Christmas in Colorado with family and one day on a solo drive back to the cabin from town, I stopped to greet a dozen or so horses that were looking over their fence on the side of the road. I was driving across a high, windy plateau so I bundled up and trudged over to see if they’d be interested in me as well. Two of them didn’t meander away when I walked up, and one of those didn’t stick around after nibbling at my palm and finding it empty. I wished I had any treats to feed them! The one that stayed with me was a big gray brindle. I remembered some blueberries in the car and thought I’d see what she thought of them — not ideal, but I wanted to give her something. When I held out a handful we both quickly realized they were far too small and too few for her to really pick up. I laughed and she gently brought her nose up to my cheek and nuzzled at my ear for what felt like a delicious eternity. That little interaction filled me up for days afterward.

03    Art Experience: An encounter with art (in any form)

I met artist Alison Rossiter in Paris last month at the photo fair and she spontaneously invited me to her studio for a chat when we both returned to New York. On my first morning back we sat for several hours over tea, talking about her work and mine. She is enthusiastic and sincere, and I was energized by her deep curiosity, and the very natural way she illuminates her process in conversation. Her photographs are made entirely in the darkroom — with the assistance of chance and decades-old rescued boxes of photo paper. She dips sheets of the historical paper in developer and exposes it at intervals to create rich, minimal compositions. I think of tides leaving marks on the sand, of clay pots dipped in glaze. Reclaiming these abandoned materials with their individual characteristics and stories — how they were stored, what fogs of light may have reached them in their boxes, she reveals past lives and tells her own material stories with them. I can’t stop thinking about how dense with history and perspective things we sometimes view only as tools can be!

04    Change: a meaningful change that impacts the way you live (either that you initiated or that entered from outside)

A good friend reminded me to ask for help more often from the people who love and care about me. Strength is not necessarily measured in terms of independence, and I’m practicing her advice.

05    New Idea: a new way of looking at things or something to attempt in the future

The concept of: “Show up before you are ready.”

06    Object (new): a new object that held significance

I’m studio-sitting a friend’s pottery workshop in the Catskills while she’s in Morocco this month. The first thing I did was to glaze and fire some old pieces I threw over the summer. I ended up with a set of two tumblers and two deep plates that I’ve used for every meal since. Smoked salmon and sparkling wine with a friend on New Years Eve, winter salads, curry … I’m new to ceramics so it’s satisfying to find I’ve made a set of two of anything, but also to return after several months of traveling, and a series of deep shifts in my life, to find that my “earlier self” had made this beautiful and functional gift that’s helped ground my present.

07    Object (old): an old object that took on new/different kind of meaning

I recently picked up a book my mother had given me nearly a year ago and found it to be exactly what I needed at that moment. The title is "Anam Cara," by the late poet and philosopher John O’Donohue. Here’s a favorite passage:

"Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has a map of your
future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of your self. If you do, it will
take you where you need to go, but more importantly it will teach you a kindness of
rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the
signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to your
self and seek to come into your own presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for
your life. The senses are generous pathways which can bring you home."

08    Discard: Something you decided to rid from your life (or that you are particularly happy this month to see come to an end)

I decided to let go of the lease on my East Village apartment! I’ve had the place since 2010 and I’ve been reluctant (and a little afraid) to give it up for the last few years even though I was living in the Catskills and couldn’t imagine living there again. It feels like a leap since I’m not sure yet where I want to live next, but I know it’s not there, so I’m proceeding by elimination (this could take awhile!) and using the in-between time to travel and explore.

09    Gratitude: something you have been specifically thankful for this month:

Serendipitous encounters. On my first of ten days in Colorado last month, I very tentatively tried a class at the only yoga studio within an hour’s drive, and was awed and humbled when the owner and only teacher turned out to be an amazing instructor and healer as well as a kindred spirit. She helped me release some physical pain I’d been suffering from for years and changed the way I relate to my body in terms of movement. What a gift.

10    Proportion: A specific moment that reminded you of the scale of the universe. That you are part of a greater whole.

I got to bathe in some natural hot springs on the edge of an ice-cold creek in Colorado a couple of weeks ago. The rush of cold from the mountains high above naturally tempered the geothermal waters to a perfectly hot soaking experience … all on a windy 30 degree day in bright sunshine. Heat/cold/heat/cold/heat. So many layers of the earth’s extremes coming together and offering one human body this deep relaxation (plus minerals and vitamin D!) I couldn’t help but feel my smallness, but also gratitude for my aliveness and strength in feeling supported by the natural world.


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Horse friends

Horse friends

Early glaze experiment

Early glaze experiment

Light games and a favorite corner in my East Village apartment

Light games and a favorite corner in my East Village apartment

My parents relaxing in the springs

My parents relaxing in the springs