Who are you?
We are Robert Johnson and Kat Sarkissian. We’ve been working together in the photo industry as a team, long before photo teams were a thing. In those days art directors were confused at the thought of a photo team, not understanding how two people could work together seamlessly to create imagery in a field that was dominated by the single male photographer archetype.
How did you get involved with art?
Kat: As a teenager I loved creating photographs, especially in nature. I was also lucky enough to have an art teacher who was extremely encouraging. From a young age I always knew I wanted to be an artist.
Robert: I was a drummer throughout my youth. Music opened my artistic side and introduced me to other artists. I was drawn towards the life of thinking outside the box.
How did you get into this field? Who or what was your inspiration?
Initially we started out street shooting for the NY Daily News. We had a Ford van full of police radios and we went looking for trouble in NYC – and we found plenty. News work is always dwelling in the negative and we needed to find a way to pursue our path in a joyful way. We went to film school in California and then began assisting top photographers back in NY. That led us to Europe and after spending 12 years living and working in Italy, photographing top models and fashion designers, we wanted to bring that kind of “fashion” experience to everyday people. We went to AfroPunk Festival, set up our studio and began creating portraits. People lined up for hours just to have their portraits made. That’s when we knew we were doing something that moved people.
What was the most interesting photoshoot you’ve encountered?
We’ve done a lot of great ones, but maybe it was photographing Donatella Versace for her first collection. Her Brother, Gianni, had just been assassinated in Miami and it fell to Donatella to carry on the line. We photographed the three major stars of the fashion world at the time – Donatella, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, all together for her first portrait after his death. It was really a intense moment and was also challenging to help her manage her emotions.
What advice would you give to beginners?
Share. Understand that sharing ideas and your creative insights only makes you better. No one else is going to be able to do exactly what you do, the same way that you do it. So don’t be afraid to help others when you can.
What’s the best part of what you do?
Seeing the joy that people feel after a portrait session. Feeling that connection and getting under the surface. Everyone is hungry for inter-personal touch and to be seen and heard. We feel that what we do is 20 percent photography and 80 percent psychology.
Where’s your ideal vacation spot?
Deep back country, with a canoe on a lake. No cell towers, no instagram, no texting. Just eagles, river otter and our cat, Mitzi K. Pillington, whom we take camping with us.
If you could go back to yourself as 10-year-old-you what advice would you whisper in your ear?
The Native American saying: “Every now and then, as you go along in life, you’ll come across a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you think.”