Back in December, I did a post about David Johnston’s book Long Walks. Since then I’ve had the chance to hear more from David and took the opportunity to ask him about walking, his work and his book. David’s early life on a farm first aroused his passion for the countryside. This uninterrupted country life carried on through a series of jobs before he turned his hand to maintenance in a home for the mentally disabled. But walking the countryside, camera in hand, was still his greatest pleasure and he has continued to do so throughout his life. David’s photographs first appeared in local newspapers and magazines in 1987, and Long Walks was published by Photoworks in 1999, accompanied by a major exhibition. Later, he went on to publish his book West Sussex Barns & Farms Buildings in 2002 with Dovecote Press.
How important is walking to your photographic practice?
DJ – For me, walking and photography go hand in hand, they are bound together, one working with the other; and for that reason, I find the two of equal importance. For I may be out there, wandering the country lanes at any time of the year, and unexpectedly spot something rare and exciting. It’s then captured instantly on film. No matter how many times I have gone over the same ground, there is always something new to see, and it was this compulsion, this need to always walk with my camera, which gave me every single opportunity to photograph the great variety of country images that I have in my archive of around 10,000 colour slides of the Sussex countryside, all built up over the past thirty years.
How did you go about making Long Walks; what was your working process?
DJ – The making of Long Walks began from the moment I started recording my country rambles on film, and in my diary, back in 1987. I had then some vague hope that one day my detailed observations may be of interest to others. It was at this early stage, that I found myself instinctively seeking out the hidden nooks within our rural county, for there was always so much to see, so much to inspire a curious mind. On arriving home, I would jot down these observations, each page being filled with the beauty of the landscapes and occasionally adding those happy pauses for hot tea from the flask, or fish ‘n’ chips in the car, while watching the sunset! Yet, beside these random personal snippets, it was a serious study of our living countryside, photographed, and scribbled down exactly as I saw it – with a hope of stirring the imagination, and urging others to go out to explore the beauty of the land we live in. It was always a leisurely project. One which I knew in the back of my mind would be a long term venture, lasting perhaps thirty years, if not more.
What are your current thoughts about Long Walks, how do you feel about the work now?
DJ – My thoughts about Long Walks, have always been the same, tinged with a fragment of disappointment. For, to my way of thinking, there was no real point in having my appallingly untidy handwriting printed within the book, the very same notes would have been better illustrated with a good italic typeset. But having said that, Long Walks was, of course, an important medium for proclaiming my photographic work of some recognisable importance to the county of West Sussex. The book certainly broadcast the joy of walking and photographing the rural life and natural world within our county, and for that, I will always be thankful.
What are you working on at the present moment, do you have any more long walks planned for the future?
DJ – This year I have been working on, and coincidently just finished compiling into one complete volume, my Long Walks Diaries – all of which cover the years between 1987 and 2003. The manuscript has 130 pages, made up of around 48,000 words. It is in fact a documentary of the changing countryside in Sussex, built up over a quarter of a century. Within its pages are hundreds of nature notes along with the recording of many interesting old farm buildings: shepherd huts, redundant farm machinery, and any curious artefacts we came across. Also contained within are the many country people we met and spoke to, from Lords and Ladies to Sussex farmers, country rustics and odd eccentrics. Then there are events, the great storm of 1987 and the change it made to the countryside, also the floods, the snow storms and the weather we noted each day. And there are the fourteen separate village photo-shoots for the Millennium that I undertook. These things and much more are all within the pages of the Diary and I am now looking for a publisher, who would find this new book of interest to publish.