John Lujan: Creator of #HorrorClub & Storyteller
John Lujan: Creator of #HorrorClub and Storyteller by Rebecca C.
Many months ago I noticed some of my favorite artists tagging their more sinister photos #horrorclub. I will just tell you up front, I’m afraid of my own shadow. I can’t watch a scary movie and I see creepy in things most people don’t. I also live in a big old creaky house with and equally wimpy dog. It can be spooky. A few people have told me that they’ve seen ghosts there, but I digress. Let me just say it took some courage to even look at the tag. There were a few times I actually wished I hadn’t some of the images were so terrifying. At the same time some of the images were so elegant in their horror that I became fascinated with what horror meant to the different artists who participated. I also began to toy with the idea of how I might create a horror image. I tried a few times, flops, or rather, just not scary. Then bingo! I hit upon one that worked. It was selected as a feature image and I was hooked! It was here that I found the master John Lujan. Not only are the images he creates in the genre completely compelling but also his other work has a gentle narrative quality that is a joy to view. Here’s a little bit about the very talented and interesting John. Enjoy!
R: Rebecca J: John
R: As always, let’s start with the basics. Who is John? Where are you from? And what do you do outside of mobile photography?
J: Sometimes, the most straightforward question can be the most difficult to answer. I am a son of Bolivian immigrants, a husband to a loving wife, and the eldest brother to two young men. I call Virginia, Maryland, and DC my home. I travel through all three continuously and fluidly. To me, these streets, alleys, back roads, and highways that connect all three are parts of the whole. As cliché as it may sound, this region is a part of who I am. I am a son of this region.
I am also a former law student. So outside of mobile photography, I am studying for the Virginia Bar. Unfortunately, because of the time demands of that exam that is pretty much all I do. But I do have interests outside of mobile photography. Whenever I see a record, as in vinyl, of an artist I like, I must add it to my collection. I collect vinyl records and am, in general, a creature of music. I also love all things vintage. Photos, books, movies, etc. I see the history in a dusty book or crippled photo and smile.
R: I’m always fascinated to know how people discover and get into mobile photography. Would you share your story?
J: I discovered mobile photography the way most folks do, I think. My iPhone was surprisingly powerful, not just in its ability to capture an image, but, and perhaps more importantly, in its ability to alter the image. I have always loved photography, and this was enhanced when I was able to take a picture and edit it on the spot. Instant gratification, I suppose. A few years ago, I would take a picture and have to wait till I got home and upload it to my computer to finally edit it. Once apps like Snapseed or Camera+ showed me that I could edit it in ways I could not believe, my computer began to collect dust. It is now full of dust.
But this is only half of my story. Of course, once I found Instagram a year ago, I found like-minded folks that loved mobile photography. The feedback, motivation, and inspiration from these individuals made me try harder. I would see images that folks would upload, and it instantly made me want to improve.
R: I linked to your feed through Horror Club, more on this later, many weeks ago and I’m struck by the evolution in your work? Would you describe your style and can you talk about this evolution and who or what has influenced you?
J: I think what has changed for me is the focus on the initial picture as opposed to the focus on the edit after the picture is taken. Obviously, the edit is important, but I take greater care in the initial picture now. I feel a great challenge in capturing the image on my iPhone. Some of my favorite artists such as @_jenbeezy_ and @mineowneye are edit-heavy artists, but, and for whatever reason, I have drifted away from this. Without a doubt, @mrevidence and @tahaphoto have influenced me, and made me up my game when it came to this. To see the initial photo in geometric terms is now a source of entertainment and challenge. Also I try to tell stories with my images. Sometimes this works, other times I fail dramatically (ha!), but I enjoy that. @tahaphoto has also been an inspiration in this, but initially @lafletcher, whom I admire, made me realize the potential of the caption. The caption can change the entire perception of the photo. I love that.
R: Do you have favorite apps and tools for editing?
J: I always take the photo in the native app. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t shake the feeling that if I take the photo within another app, it will degrade the quality! Haha… I may be completely wrong, but this just makes me take the photo within the native app. From there I always go to what I feel are standard apps for most folks. Snapseed, Camera+, Picfx, etc. But If I decide to go to a black and white image, I will always go to Noir after the initial correction of saturation and contrast. I haven’t found an app that adds as much drama as Noir. @divasantanica666 really showed me the advantage of this app. Sometimes I will edit on the iPad, and when I do, I have used Laminar as well as those noted.
R: I have my favorites in your stream, but would you share a few of your works that you are most proud of and tell us about them?
J: One of my favorites is the one I took of metro trains in Washington, DC. My wife and I were running late for the Nationals baseball game. The DC metro system is dark and the iPhone generally takes very pixilated photos in the tunnels. We were running across the bridge over the metro cars when I saw the photo. The cars were standing still and the light above was, to me, awesome. So I stood right in the middle and framed it as best I could. I edited it really quickly in Snapseed and uploaded a few minutes later. Even though you can see some grain, I really enjoy that photo.
Another one of my favorites is from the previous Horror Club challenge. My boy @frankensinatra (who ended up winning the challenge, as chosen by guest judge @djbabuforeal) posted a killer edit. I loved his details and how clean the photo was. To get his photos is to appreciate the details. Horror Club challenges are straightforward. I find a base photo that I love. Generally this means from an IGer I admire. @djbabuforeal posted a photo that blew me away. He was cool with using it for the challenge. I did one edit for the challenge that I was happy with. Obviously, mine edits are not to win since I organized it. It was mostly to get the word out, but also because I love the competition of it. And so, when Mike posted his, I went back to the drawing board. I have a strange fascination with masks. I have seen how IGers use masks effectively, notably @jr_el_nota, and I think using these props in photos add to the drama of it. My wife would put on the Plague Doctor mask and walk around DC. With it on, with people staring, and with me snapping pictures. Its how we do. So I incorporated one of these photos into the base image for the challenge. Its definitely one of my favorite photos.
This last one is one of my favorites because of the negative space used. I really enjoy leaving much of the photo completely empty. I don’t do it often, but when I do, I generally enjoy it. These trees are actually in the process of being removed for the construction of houses. Before, everything here was a forest. Now, it is just empty, and I wanted my photo to reflect that. The picture itself was dull to me. Using Noir and Laminar, I created the foggy look with the dramatic lighting. I like how my mother could not recognize this, even though it was behind her house.
R: You are the creator and administrator for the amazing and completely terrifying @horrorclub. Would you tell us about the creation and ideas behind this wonderful gallery? How do you define horror in the context of mobile photography? And what makes a great horror image?
J: Actually, I am a huge horror fan. There is a thin line between an effective horror image and one that enters the realm of cheesiness. I find that line and those that become effective in horror images to be amazing. Back in December, I randomly turned myself into a zombie. It just happened. I was using Path at the time, and I posted the image to Path. Soon, my friends on Path such as @songkitty7 had interest in being turned into a zombie. So I decided to put together four IGer zombies that would have an accompanying story. When I posted, I realized there was no accompanying tag that fit. Tags are an important way for people to connect on IG, and I found none for horror. The generic #horror tag didn’t work for me. I wanted something specific. Something that people would find interesting. So I initially created the tag #horrorclub. Soon after I started the account to highlight folks that tagged their pictures. My friend @chattyowl helped me during the initial stages, finding crazy images and awesome edits. Quickly, I realized the amount of incredible artists on IG producing effective horror images. I found @tonydetroit, @jr_el_nota, @blaquira , @plague_doctor, @mineowneye and @_jenbeezy_ all artists that shared the same love of horror as I do.
I think the turning point for @horrorclub was the first challenge I put together. @_nazgul and @mrevidence agreed to judge an edit challenge. From there, it just kept growing. Part of it was the focus on the artists. To me, Horror Club is nothing more than the showcase for talented artists. The genre of horror is broad and it can encompass many facets of the human experience. From pain, to grief, to fear, to death, horror is a powerful medium for transmitting emotion and shock.
Now the tag has almost eight thousand photos and is continuing to grow. It has been fun. I look forward to seeing the tag and the account continue to grow.
Photo Credit: @__malcome on Instagram
Photo Credit: @frankensinatra on Instagram/ EyeEm
Photo Credit: @Noah_Fentz on Instagram
R: What’s in the future for John and do you have anything else you’d like to share?
J: The future for me in mobile photography is to upgrade my iPhone 4 (ha!). I am excited about the growth and the strides one takes in a craft such as this. I see creativity at the center of this art form, but I also see the work one puts in towards mastering a craft. I find that exciting. The limitations of the iPhone create opportunities to overcome, and I find these opportunities riveting.
We Are Juxt thanks you for your words and your art.
About Rebecca Cornwell
I’m a single mother of 3 incredible daughters. A former painter whose creativity has been resuscitated by the discovery of iPhoneography. Fascinated by the possibilities within a machine we hold in our hands. Eyes wide, we march into this exciting new and ever evolving world of mobile art.