A Photographer’s Loving Ode to His Girlfriend and Her Family

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Munro Close by Jay Johnson
Munro ClosePhotography by Jay Johnson

Mancunian photographer Jay Johnson’s new photo zine captures the people, landscapes and food of Jamaica and Atlanta in an attentive, freewheeling light

When a photographer shoots someone they love, it shows. Think of Davide Sorrenti’s adoring photos of his then-girlfriend Jaime King, Nan Goldin’s seminal 1983 The Ballad of Sexual Dependency self-portrait – where she gazes longingly at her boyfriend Brian from the golden confines of their bedroom – or of Ryan McGinley’s iPhone shots of his boyfriend Marc, curled up asleep in bed with their dog. Intimacy is a notoriously difficult temperament to translate into art, but it’s something which photographers have nonetheless tried to capture since the dawn of the medium.

Jay Johnson’s new photo zine Munro Close, published by Village, is a love letter of sorts. After feeling uninspired shooting people and landscapes in the suburbs of south Manchester – where he hails from – Johnson and his girlfriend Daniela took a trip to Jamaica in early 2022 to stay with her parents in Port Antonio, and later, her sister in Atlanta. Named after the street on which they stayed – Munro Close – the zine is a diaristic document of Johnson’s girlfriend, her family, and their way of life. “She is a muse and I’ll always take photos of her,” says Johnson, who tenderly captures Daniela looking out of Ubers in Atlanta, playing ping pong alongside her near-identical mother in Jamaica, or simply enjoying a midnight snack of plattered pineapple. Daniela, however, doesn’t see herself as the subject of the book. “I see it as my home through his eyes and what he was drawn to in Jamaica rather than it really being about me and my family,” she explains. That being said, she still loved seeing his “interpretation” of the place which she calls home. 

Like many other photographers, Johnson arrived at the medium through skateboarding. “In Manchester, there’s a really prolific skateboarding scene,” Johnson says. “Hanging around the skateshop [Note] and seeing all the videos of the older guys making stuff, you just have that urge to document what’s going on, your friends, and everything that is happening around you.” Johnson later pursued a degree in contemporary photography at Manchester Metropolitan University, where his tutor introduced him to fashion and documentary photographers like Stephen Shore. “It just completely blew my mind, and opened up the possibilities of what you can actually do,” he says. “I love documentary work that has a diaristic quality, like stylised documentary. I’m conscious of [putting] fashion elements in there as well,” says Johnson, who has shot quiet, understated editorials and campaigns for brands including Pringle of Scotland and Vaara.

Taking inspiration from the food images in Shore’s epic 1982 photo book Uncommon Places, Jamaican cuisine features heavily in Munro Close; there’s a solitary mushroom sprouting from a bed of grass, a woman preparing ackee fruit with the blade of a knife (the national fruit of Jamaica), the leftover head of a red snapper, shrimps soaking in water, and the icy remnants of rum and coke in a paper cup. “There’s a lot of food in there, and I feel like that’s a really important part of the culture – not only Jamaican culture, which it is a massive part of – but also Daniela’s Italian side,” says Johnson. “They all just absolutely love to cook.” He explains how the kitchen had to be meticulously cleaned before and after preparing food; one image of a bug on a silver spoon was taken after they found it sizzling away in a frying pan – evidence of a momentary lapse of judgement in an otherwise pristine cooking environment.

Daniela describes the atmosphere of Port Antonio as either tranquil or totally chaotic. “Whether it’s swimming in waters from my mum’s past times, watching my uncle spend hours delicately picking the bones from the saltfish to cook with the ackee from our tree, or seeing my grandpa just sat in his chair looking out onto the veranda – these are all things that just make sense and are really special,” she explains. Alongside images of food and nature, portraits of Uber drivers in Atlanta are interspersed throughout the second half of the book; on long car rides around the city, Johnson would spend so much time hearing the drivers’ life stories that he’d feel compelled to take their picture.

When asked why he takes pictures of his girlfriend, Johnson recalls a eureka moment from his time at university. His tutor had told students to take pictures of their family and friends as practice, but “he treated it like it wasn’t credible work,” says Johnson. “I quickly thought, this is a really important part of it. These are the people who ... I want to document these people because they mean so much to me.” 

Munro Close by Jay Johnson is published by Village and is out now.