Artist Interview: Sean Mahon
Get to Know Artist Sean Mahon!
Sean Mahon (@Angry.Johnny) is a New Jersey based photographer. He has predominantly based his work around his home state of New Jersey as well as taking the opportunities to explore around the United States. His work aims to highlight a few unique perspectives and to constantly remind his audience to chase happiness; first and foremost. Follow him on Instagram for more of his work!
Tell us a little bit about how you got into photography. How long have you been shooting?
I became interested with photography around the age of 13 through skateboarding. My friends and I would capture photos and videos of us skateboarding. Through high school, I started focusing more on video production. I focused heavily on video production professionally from the time I was 16 until about the age of 22. Then I changed my focus to photography. I think I just burnt myself out doing video. I turned what I was passionate about into work and eventually I felt as though I lost enjoyment for creating videos. I lost my desire to create fun videos with my friends as I always had during my free time due to constantly shooting and editing videos for work. So, I sold one of my video cameras for a Canon 5d mark iii for the purpose of being able to create again for self satisfaction. It gave me the freedom to create without limitation and fully for pleasure as video had once done.
What kind of messages or emotions are you trying to convey with your work?
I strive to capture images that allow the viewer to feel something— anything at all. I feel that we are constantly bombarded by images in our daily lives. Many of which we associate more with word meaning than emotional meaning. I try and capture images that allow the viewer to experience the image for more than just swipe past it seeing it as “mountain”, “sunset”, etc. I just want my images to be worth coming back to and remembering.
Are you self-taught or classically trained, or a little bit of both?
I started out with photography self-taught. Mostly just playing with dials and settings until the results looked good. Great thing about digital photography, you don't have to worry about wasting film. I however eventually was trained in video production which is quite similar to photo in more ways than not. This training gave me a great understanding of what each setting on the camera was doing and the result that changing these settings would yield. In college I took a digital photo class which did teach me a significant amount and definitely helped improve my abilities. I would suggest taking a class to anyone, even someone with pretty good understanding. Sometimes just being around others with experience helps develop your style more.
Tell us the story behind your @username!
I am constantly asked about my username. People always ask why “johnny” when my real name is Sean. Long story short, it’s from a band called The Gaslight Anthem which if you haven’t heard of them, you should check them out. They have a song called “Angry Johnny and the Radio” but the song I was referencing with my handle was “Even the Cowgirls Get the Blues”. Kinda confusing but hang in there I will explain. In this song Even the Cowgirls Get the Blues, there is a character named “Angry Johnny” who is said to be recently married with a family. They explain this by saying he “traded in his memories for fairview and acres”. I am a pretty heavily tattooed individual who has grown up going to punk rock shows where a constant theme of staying free or “not walking the line” occurs. As much as I forever want to keep on the fight of staying free and chasing freedom, I always knew there would come a time where I would have to walk the line, fall into place and lose some freedom. As of recently, I am walking that line and have been unable to pick up my camera for the last 6 weeks due to work. Since I started photography, I knew this time would come for me so I found the handle fitting. Eventually my days of endless photo explorations, high risk shots and road trips would become significantly reduced as I trade those days for the dream of starting a family and buying a home.
If you were to give advice to a rising photographer, what would you say? What wouldn’t you say?
My absolute best advice to a rising photographer or anyone interested in starting would be to never limit yourself to one style of photography. If you like portraits the best, fine. Focus more heavily on portraits. But never pass up the opportunity to shoot something different or anything that catches your eye. I believe being well versed in different styles and genres of photography is what really separates the good photographers from the great ones.
What have you done recently to better yourself as a photographer?
Most recently I have just taken a few months to travel across the united states and parts of Canada in an effort to better my photography skills and update my portfolio. Visiting and exploring a mix of major cities and national parks, helped expose me to unique landscapes and environments. Being limited on time, pressure was added to each shot I was taking. The trip really helped me begin shooting different styles of photography which I have never really explored before. Sometimes changing your geography inspires you.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done (or would like to do someday) to get the shot?
The craziest thing I ever did for a shot was drive to New York City to shoot photos in a blizzard. Doesn’t sound crazy, but the effort that was involved was substantial. I came to NYC from a video shoot where I changed out of my work clothes and into snow gear in the parking lot outside. I then picked up my friends and headed into NYC. We actually beat the blizzard to NYC which was weird. It began snowing in central Jersey where we left from and it snowed the entire drive there until we came out from the Holland Tunnel where it was not snowing at all. We wandered around the city for hours shooting until it began to snow. The snow fell fast and heavy. I grabbed the shot I wanted in Times Square and started heading home. It must have been about 1am when we left Times Square. We made it through the tunnel and I cannot exaggerate we were the only car on the road. Listening to the radio, I could hear the closures of the bridges and tunnels into the city literally minutes after we got through. The entire drive home I struggled to see what was road and what wasn’t. Snow began piling up on my windshield wipers but I refused to stop for the fear of getting stuck. With limited visibility and a car full of stressed friends, we luckily made it home after about 5 and a half hours of driving 10mph through a whiteout. It was fun, I would do it again in a heartbeat. My friends, most likely not.
What is your favorite photo that you’ve taken?
People have asked me many times, “What is your favorite photo you’ve ever taken”? The answer always surprises them because it might be one of the worst photographs execution wise I have ever taken. It is a photo of my sister and my buddy Nick building a terrible snowman in the middle of the street. The reason it is my favorite is because of the story leading up to this moment. Unfortunately, my friend Nick’s father passed away hours before this photo was taken. A very unexacting dark turn to our day and his life. Without going into more detail, this photo was taken hours after the news broke and minutes after we moved him into my house to join our family. For some reason, this photo seemed to capture a hopeful moment in a day that was anything but fun. When I look at the image, I feel a rush of emotions ranging from sadness to uncontrollable laughter. The photo has an effect on me I think that is totally unique. I know this photo isn’t going to give any real emotion to any viewer. Well, they might say, “This isn’t the best photo....” haha.
Is there a larger social statement you want to share with your viewers?
The best statement I can share to my viewers is to just keep chasing happiness. That's it.
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