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Tour Mixed-Media Artist Ashley Johnson's Home and Studio in Winston-Salem, NC

Meet photographer, mixed-media artist and culinary producer Ashley Johnson, who fills her home and her life with art, meaningful objects, a sense of play and her own work that examines the “big questions” in the world today.

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Photo: Stephanie Berbec

A Life in Pictures

Photographer Ashley Johnson works as a commercial photographer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, specializing in brand, food and lifestyle photography for clients. But it’s the work she does for herself that defines who she is. In her bio, she calls herself “a mixed-media artist by way of hand-crafted weavings, floral, woven and braided masks, and … a documentarian and photographer by way of life.

“I’ve always documented my life, my family, and the things around me. And then, I just started getting hired for small projects,” Ashley says. “And over time, it just turned into its own business — and its own life.”

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Photo: Ashley Johnson

Exploring the Big Questions

Commercial photography, by necessity, is full of light that “creates a veneer that doesn’t really exist,” Ashley says. Her own work takes the opposite approach. “My own personal work began with a series that was mostly shadow, just dark.” Ashley says. "Southern Women in White Dogwoods" is one of many images of masks she has made using live florals and woven textiles. “Most of the larger bodies of work I’ve made are about big questions, usually about the world around me, as I’m experiencing it.

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Photo: Ashley Johnson

'Work That Investigates the Viewer'

One powerful series was inspired by a dream. The series, Mark Yourself Safe, explores the topic of fear around Black men “and what alarms us to tell us that we’re either safe or unsafe,” Ashley explains. In the dream, “a bunch of Black boys were ripping off their clothes and running away from a group home and painting these Rorschach shapes on their backs.” In her photographs, dark-skinned men with their backs painted with shapes and slashes of bright orange are pictured in shadowy settings. “When it comes to Black men, especially as we were seeing so many police-related deaths, both seen and unseen, I was very curious about what invokes that fear. It's work that investigates the viewer.”

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Photo: Ashley Johnson

An Artist's View of Community: Miriam Tribe

Ashley’s home in Winston-Salem is filled with her own work but also the work of other artists that she admires. A linework design by Utah multi-media artist Miriam Tribe commands attention on a living room wall. “I asked her for a community of people that were kind of emotive, leaning into each other, and, literally, the first sketch she did, I was like, that’s it, that’s the one,” Ashley says. “So I projected it onto my wall and then painted over it, and she did a really great job of calling in what l was looking for, which is people in community with one another.”

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