Selective Focus: Hansi Johnson


For years, Hansi Johnson has worked as an advocate for outdoor recreation in our region, and his photography shows the rest of the world how lucky we are to live here.

H.J.: I am a photographer and I generally shoot full frame DSLR. However I am not married to any one camera, aspect ratio or format. I have published photos from my Iphone, my cropped camera as well.

I am generally considered an action photographer but like all labels that description is not quite right. My style is more around environmental photographs but instead of shots that only show landscapes I love to position a person interacting in that space as well, generally enjoying some form of adventurous outdoor recreation.


hansi_2016p1410587I have been a photographer of some form most of my life. My father had a dark room in our home as I was growing up and I used to burn up rolls and rolls of film. I went back to school after a stint in the real world and took three years of cinematography courses, generally geared toward being a cameraperson. Truly though the last 10 years have been when I have been more focused and intentional about photography. Advocacy has been the main trigger for me in my current photographic efforts. My “real” job is working full time as an advocate for Outdoor Recreation and my images really stem from the need to tell stories about the places, people and activities I am advocating for here in the Upper Midwest.


There are a myriad challenges for me. Most of them are time related, like I need more time to do what I want to do! In the actual imagery I produce most of my challenges are physical. I generally work in remote locations outdoors and because of that I am constantly working with dynamic light and changing physical conditions.

I also work with specific people as subjects and their performances are key to my images. All the sports I shoot are defined by styles of technique and I know the turns, jumps and angles that I appreciate in a good athlete, catching those moments and having the athlete who can create that are really hard to do consistently.


The rewards are personal and certainly not financial. I take pride in the fact that many of my images have defined what action sports mean in the Upper Midwest and one of my main goals has been to destroy the stereotype of our region as flat and without world class adventures in skiing, paddling, climbing and mountain biking and fishing. I am most happy when one of those images blows the minds of people who are not from here and the absolute best response is the “Where is this shot? … Minnesota?!!”


While I would love to do more displays my public showings are rare. Mainly because of time and costs of production. However I do have a photo site where I put some of my images as well as a blog that I use as a muse for my work. That said many of the outdoor groups in Duluth are using my images in their work to steward our amazing outdoor recreation here in the city. I have also been featured as a photographer in several magazines and web sites, a recent one last season was


Last winter I started a really fun project with Rich Narum. We traveled to Lahti, Finland to photograph the Nordic Skiing World Cup and document the world class work Duluthian Jason Cork is doing as a coach for the US Ski Team. It was fun to shoot as a duo and our work is about to be highlighted in Cross Country Skier Magazine, Issue #2. Rich and I are also looking at some further outputs of the images that we gathered in Finland and that is both super hopeful and challenging for sure!


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