I am not a particularly religious person but I do deliberate on the notion of “things that were meant to be.” I believe that meeting Johnny Fan was one of those moments.
I was taking a Lyft back to my apartment and the driver began to ask what I did for a living. I was still a Marketing student at DePaul and told him I wanted to get into music marketing. He told me he was an artist (the 4th time this has happened to me) and was describing his recent work which was rather impressive. I set up a meeting with him and his manager, they liked my ideas, and I began to work with Bronzeville’s own Sir The Baptist.
It wasn’t until months later when we were prepping for his show at Bonnaroo that I met Johnny Fan. He was balancing college life with his casual gig as a national touring photographer for Sir the Baptist. We quickly became friends and have remained in touch over the years. More recently, we have really been itching to work together and have identified some really exciting opportunities (so stay tuned on that front).
I wanted to catch up with Johnny to get a better look at some of his favorite photography moments and what his latest event, “1996/10,000” is all about.
What was the first show you ever shot?
I still can’t believe this happened to be the first show I ever shot but it was. It was like a 2000’s Roc-A-Fella hip-hop reunion of some sort and I can’t even remember how this happened but yeah, you name it. They had Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk, with The Harlem Diplomats Family: Cam’Ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, Freekey and more. You can see the flyer below. There was some real memory throwbacks with some of the artists on this bill.
What was the biggest challenge being in college while being a touring photographer?
Literally everything you can possibly think of as a challenge while being in college and being a touring photographer. The glaring and toughest one would definitely be time management. Just like everyone else, you get 24 hours in a day. But, when you’re going from state to state, city to city, the time zones change. However, the homework due times do not. It’s a lot of brain power for me to solidify this so I had to do a lot of task management in order to make sure my work was done.
What was your favorite show that you shot? Favorite artist you have met?
Favorite show is hard! I definitely enjoyed a whole festival in Anaheim, California called Day N Night. Hmm, if I had to single out a single show, I definitely think the 2nd show I ever shot which was Lupe Fiasco that really solidified my vision and passion to try and document music. Lupe was one of the first artists I ever listened to that got me into hip-hop. Lupe, along with Jay Z, and Kanye West.
I first got tuned in with hip-hop and rap through Linkin Park (my favorite band of all time) and Jay Z collaboration album, Encore. Through Jay Z, I got in tune with Kanye West. Through Kanye West, I got in tune with Lupe Fiasco. Since then, I’ve grown so much on hip-hop.
We’re really in an exciting time with the uproar of artists, the genre fusing and blending music, the ease of access and reach, and the technological advancement we have to execute on those things.
Favorite artist I’ve met…its hard to just pick one because there is a favorite one for a different reason. Ari Lennox is a special one. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In 2016, at Made in America Festival, we (Sir the Baptist and the team), performed. Right after the performance, Jay Z came back stage to congratulate Sir and the team and told us that he’s really excited to see what comes next. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. After that interaction, we all headed to the Green Room and we’re shocked that happened. Tears definitely came out on all ends of the team. It was like a moment that really spoke to our work, our vision, and our goals that showed us we were on a good path and that all the sacrifices and effort we made were not for nothing.
In addition to being a freelance photographer and a creative consultant, you are building a music branding and marketing agency. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Well, we aren’t exactly “officially” launched yet. It’s been an idea I’ve been going over and it started on my notes on my iPhone. We saw potential in where we could carve an edge in the industry by serving with an artist-first lens. Obviously, there are a [growing number] of companies that operate in this style of service as we move into an industry that finally understands that the artist should hold all the cards in the deck.
With that said, we are consuming more music than ever. We are consuming more content than ever. We’re here to serve that spread.
Also, how are you always working?
Haha, this is quite the question to which I have been asked a few times before. I really do enjoy working but also because of my financial circumstances, this is something I had to do at an early age. I got my first job when I was like 14. I had to go in and sign some agreement cause the legal age to work with a work permit in Illinois is 16.
I’m 22 now and I have 7-8 years of work experience more or less. I don’t know a lot of 22 year olds that could say that. I have been grinding for a long, long time. I knew that if I wanted to “get somewhere in life” — I needed to learn a few things that school couldn’t teach you.
You are an Alumnus of the After School Matters program. What skills did you learn from that program and what advice do you have for kids trying to navigate their passions as they go through high school and college?
I am! On top of that, I’m part of the Alumni Advisory Board (Council) which maintains a membership of 10-15 alums. As part of the Council, we move forward with brainstorming, ideating, planning, and executing for the extremely large alumni network that After School Matters has served over the years since its inception.
I think the soft skills that I learned aren’t exactly quantifiable but something that has served me well in handling business with clients. Funny enough, I was part of the Sports 37 division of After School Matters even though they have an art focused division called Gallery 37. I did not get the chance to get involved with photography/camera until I was 19, almost 2 years later after I graduated high school.
But Sport 37 showed me a few things. We had to plan for the week ahead by creating a daily schedule of what games, sports, and activities we will execute with the kids. It showed me that in order for things to move forward, go smoothly, and successful — you needed to jot down your ideas, blueprint it, and take steps towards it in the best way possible. With that said, the results will show.
My advice? Find those who are doing it before you and reach out to them. If you are genuine and serious about it, people will take you seriously as well. You may find someone will take you under their wing and I really believe in mentorship as a way to bounce ideas off of someone who has more life experience than you. However, I don’t believe in mentorship where they will tell you what to do because eventually you’ll need to jump into the deep end and make your own decisions. You’ll either sink or swim based on those decisions and your mentor won’t be there but you will have learned.
Your upcoming showcase is called “1996/10,000”. What does that mean and what can we expect?
Yes, of course! Let’s explain this in three parts:
Right off the bat, 1996 is my birth year. I’m at the tail end of the millennial cut off. I think we have a very special place in history. We were at the edge of the technological advancement. We were the first ones to receive smartphones. We were the first ones to be able to make known change. That one is pretty simple.
10,000 is based off the “10,000 hour theory” famously discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outlier. The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class (expert) in any field. In “Outliers,” Gladwell contends that early access to getting 10,000 hours of practice allowed the Beatles to become the greatest band in history (thanks to playing all-night shows in Hamburg) and Bill Gates to become one of the richest dudes around (thanks to using a computer since his teen years). As artists, we’re putting in our hours. We’re perfecting our craft. And this show is dedicated to just that. I wanted to document our progress. Not just mine, but each of the music artists involved and the rest of the partners involved. We are all growing. I wanted to timestamp and encapsulate our work.
So, let’s put that together. 1996/10000 is combining both of those things. It’s a play on putting in 1996 hours out of 10,000 hours. I’m still working on my craft, my path, and my goal. I’m not there yet and this is the timestamp.
And if history has told me anything, Johnny will get it done. Interested in his Celebration of Art on May 11? Grab your ticket here.