Reviving StartPhoto: inspiration, education, and community, by Ron Johnson

Black and white photograph of Ron Johnson, editor of StartPhoto. Ron is a white caucasian male with black glasses and wearing a dark collared shirt.

Welcome to StartPhoto! We’re better with you here.

Hi! I’m Ron ‘RonJohn’ Johnson (connect with me on LinkedIn). I’ve been making art for more than 25 years, though I haven’t always called myself an artist. I’m particularly interested in experimental, “alternative”, and other non-traditional and/or non-mainstream art making practices. I relish art as exploration, which will be a recurring theme in StartPhoto.

A new beginning for StartPhoto

A bit of history of this site: I first created StartPhoto in the dark ages of the internet (circa 2004), with some of the same purpose as today: to cultivate a community around art making and photography. The site grew slowly for many years, until life–career, parenthood–required me to put it on the back burner, leading to its eventual demise. In the following years, I picked-up (and then put-down) this project from time-to-time, always with the desire to restart when life circumstances allowed.

Which brings us to today. Like a zombie (or a phoenix, if you prefer that metaphor), StartPhoto has returned to life, beginning anew. As of this writing (November, 2023), everything in this project is basically a start-over; new website, new design, pretty much a blank slate. I might keep a couple of the older articles, but intend to rewrite them at some point. I’m a better writer now, and most of all, I have a different worldview shaped by a lifetime of experiences.

Why am I (RonJohn) making this thing?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this exact question, and while there are MANY reasons, they all distill down to two primary motivations:

  1. To connect with others through art making. As you’ll see, the main impetus behind StartPhoto is to create the thing I wish existed in the world. People, me included, are more isolated than ever before. The practice of art making (for me, and for many people) thrives in communities where it is supported. As a WFH professional, cultivating community of any kind is REALLY hard.
  2. To help others (and feel good about myself by doing so). At risk of being too personal, I like the version of myself that helps other people overcome challenges, learn and grow, and succeed (whatever their definition of success). I love learning and I love sharing what I’ve learned. Perhaps I missed my calling as a teacher? StartPhoto helps me scratch that itch. 

Connecting with you, learning with and from you, helping you… this is why I show up.

My art practice and background

I work in a variety of mediums including (and especially) photography, 2D/3D constructions, collage, drawing (occasionally) and painting (poorly), and what’s sometimes dismissively called “digital art”.

I have a BFA in Interdisciplinary Art with a focus in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute, a previously well-respected but sadly now defunct institution once located in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. I have aIso pursued art programs at several other colleges, studied directly with some pretty remarkable artists, and made continued growth a personal focus.

As far as photography goes, my photographic life started before the introduction of digital photography (yes, I’m pretty old), so I’ll occasionally make reference to tools and practices that are less common today. I hope this stuff will be interesting. Photography itself has changed during this time; I hope that sharing a perspective on how things have changed will help contextualize where we are today.

Black and white photograph looking down street. The image is divided in the center by the edge of the sidewalk, with the street on the left and a field bordered by a chain link fence on the right.
11-04-2023-28. © Ron Johnson.

My current (small) project

I have a small project going these days, in every sense of the word. I’m making small photographs of small things with a small camera (in fact, my mobile phone) within a small distance from my home here in Southern Washington. The purpose of this project is: 1) to practice seeing, 2) to cultivate a daily habit (make art every day!), and 3) to practice non-judgement… to see and respond without my critical mind getting in the way. This way of working is 100% designed to reduce friction.

The tools you choose shape the results you get. The images from this project would not exist (or would be very different) if I was using different tools or adopted a different mindset. Non-criticality means I’m open to making pictures I wouldn’t with a larger camera–pictures of small things are OK. The mobile phone is incredibly limited in its photographic capability. Most of the images are vertical, again shaped by the tool. And I’m editing directly on my phone, using some pretty rudimentary controls (at least compared to Photoshop).

The images resemble what I might have produced with a small format (35mm) camera with black-and-white film. I decided at the start to adopt at 5:7 aspect ratio and these rather thick black borders, similar to what you might get from a full-frame printing easel in the darkroom.

I have no explicit goal for this project, though I have kicked around the idea of producing a small book for these small images. In a month or a year, I’ll see where things have gone and where I want them to go. Undoubtedly, this project will no longer serve me in time. This is OK too.

I’d love to hear from you!

Please, connect! You can reach me directly at: Or if you prefer, you’re welcome to provide feedback via the feedback form. Either way is great–I’d love to hear from you.

Your pal,