Get to know San Francisco’s very own, Danté Johnson; as he talks about his beginnings in photography, his love for LA, & what it was like to work with Kehlani.
When I first met Danté, I was living in Phoenix. I had met him one day randomly & we briefly interacted for about 5 minutes. Within a matter of time, Danté reached out to me & asked me to shoot with him. I was hesitant to say yes. I barely knew him & the only photo experience I had was school pictures. However, Danté was very reassuring & he convinced me to have the courage to try something new.
When I had finally met up to take the pictures, Danté seemed very shy. There was a lot of silence between the both of us at first but with time I figured out that Danté is not shy, he is sweet. He is laid back but also very in order. He’s collected & his personality is greatly reflected in the assured tone of his voice. Anyone who knows Danté will tell you about the kind & loyal soul that he is.
For the interview, I agreed to meet Danté at Tacos Del Rio in Eastvale, California where he went to high school. When I arrive, Danté is surrounded by all his hometown friends. Right as we walk into the restaurant Danté runs into even more friends. The energy sky rockets immediately between the friends as they reminisce & quickly catch up to see how each other are doing. Everyone jokes with Danté, asking for a photoshoot but they all express their support for him. They invite him to a party later that night & we head our separate ways.
Inside Danté orders a round of carne asada fries, a California favorite. We all sit down to talk & enjoy our meal. Danté looks to the right & notices Josh Mitchell. He explains to me that Josh went to his high school & that he got drafted to the Indianapolis Colts. “There’s not much to do here in Eastvale so a lot of people spend their time playing sports or getting good at what they love to do,” Danté says.
My interview session was pushed back a little bit because we ended up being at Tacos Del Rio for quite awhile. I swear every time the door opened Danté knew who ever was walking in at that moment. You could definitely tell that he felt comfortable here & that this was his hometown. It was very refreshing to see the big smile on his face as he would humbly shake off all the kudos that people were giving to him.
The madness of Tacos Del Rio eventually slowed down & we finally left to talk about where Danté started, where he’s at today, & what his plans for the future are.
So, let’s start with the basics, how long have you been behind the camera for now?
“It’s been about three & a half years. I started in high school.”
Does it feel like it’s been three & a half years?
“It feels like it’s been three & a half years because it hasn’t been that long but like professionally doing pictures, it’s been that long. But I’ve always had a camera since I was a kid so, you know, it’s kind of a natural feeling.”
When you look at your photos now compared to when you first started do you see that progress of three and a half years?
“Yeah actually I do, I see a big difference. I look at all of my old photos now & I don’t even like them. I like them because it’s mine & that’s my timeline of getting better but yeah, I’ve changed completely.”
Are there any certain reoccurring themes that you try to carry on in your photography to represent you or your style?
“Well the only thing I like, well at least that I try to keep the same is my natural look. I don’t really like photoshop or a whole bunch of flash lighting or studio stuff all the time. I like to have natural light or window light or anything that’s with the sun. I just feel like a natural picture is the most realistic picture.”
What originally sparked your interest in photography?
“I just liked to be able to capture a moment & to be able to look back & remember it. I started off with just taking pictures of my family, sports, & stuff like that. And then being able to take pictures of people, you’re capturing & documenting their life. So even when they’re gone there’s all these pictures of them that people can look back on.”
So you were just kind of naturally inspired? There wasn’t like a certain moment that made you want to get behind the camera & really get into it?
“Well I just really enjoyed it to be honest. I had no idea of shooting pictures of girls or anything like that until a friend from high school asked me to take pictures of her, & once I did it & I seen I was good at it, I actually enjoyed it. It made me want to become more creative & it made me want to create more ideas & do more things with other people.”
What would you say has been your biggest moment so far as a photographer?
“Hmm, that’s a hard one, maybe this weekend. This weekend somebody flew me out from San Francisco, here to LA, just for me to take pictures at her baby shower. I never take pictures at baby showers & stuff like that but she loves my portraits so much that she wanted me at her party. Her baby shower is very important to her, it’s her first child ya know. That really opened my eyes that somebody really wanted to take their time & use their money to have me travel out here just to get pictures from me. So I thought that was really like an eye-opener because I’ve been doing this pretty much by myself this whole time. I get paid for some shoots which is cool but I’ve never had somebody offer to pay for me to travel just so they could have me specifically, like they didn’t want anyone else. So that was a big deal to me.”
I know that you had the opportunity to work with Kehlani, how was that?
“It was cool. One of my friends works at Infinite SF, Yoshi, if you guys know who that is. They asked if I could take pictures & so I was like yeah of course. And she was really, really cool. She was really down to Earth & I really enjoyed taking all those pictures of her. She was full of energy & she loves all her fans. It was a good time, we had music playing & stuff so I had a good time.”
If you could spend a day shooting with any model, who would it be?
“It would probably be Kehlani again to be honest. Just because since I’ve seen her she’s blown up extremely but I really love her aesthetics. Her style is really, really cool. I also want to give a shoutout to David Camarena. He takes some really good pictures of her. Her style is just perfect, like she could shoot anything. Like if it’s a little bit more erotic or fashion or street. She has a balance which is really cool. And I like that natural, urban, out-there look. So yeah, I’d probably say Kehlani again.”
How about a photographer? If you could work with any photographer for the day who would it be?
“Honestly I would probably say 13th Witness. He’s not even a portrait photographer but I like the way he takes his landscapes & his vision that he has. He travels a lot but the way he angles things is so different. I look at all of his pictures & then imagine a person standing right in that same background. I feel like he would help me look at things in a different way because people take a lot of the same picture. You know, the Golden Gate Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge or anything like that but he would get a different angle or a different view that you haven’t seen before & I like that. It’s an abstract mind.”
Would you say that he’s the biggest inspiration for you right now or are there others? Who are the top ones that you look up to?
“Well one of my favorites is actually from The Bay area, Bryan Berry. I believe he lives out in Pittsburgh. His portraits are really, really nice & he does a little bit of studio work as well but I feel like his studio work looks real natural. It’s not really hard lighting or like hard photoshopping, he has a softer type of edit. I really enjoy his work & his style. Another person is actually one of his best friends, Julian Edward. I’m actually friends with Julian, I met him on Haight Street in San Francisco. He’s really cool & his style is really good too. I like his low light & his night photos, even his concert photos. He inspires me to take pictures of more artists & go to more concerts & stuff like that that too.Van Styles is also one of my favorites. I feel like everybody loves Van Styles but he inspires me more on a business level than a photography level because I also want to start my brand this year. But just the fact that he’s able to take pictures for a living & live the rest of his life like that is very inspiring. Anybody can take pictures & live a day by day life & work another job but he gets to travel & go wherever he wants to go, whenever he wants & take pictures & still live a life & be able to take care of himself. And that’s what I want & he inspires me to do that because I don’t know a lot of people actually doing that. But photography wise I think my style has changed a little bit. He does a lot of the naked girls or the hardcore explicit type of stuff. I’m not really into that anymore. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just that I think I’ve changed a little bit but he still inspires me as a photographer & being an individual.”
So I know you spent your time growing up back & forth between The Bay & Southern California, would you say that one area has had more influence on you than the other?
“Yes. Los Angeles & the Inland Empire definitely had more influence on me because that’s when I first picked up a camera. So I was born in San Francisco but I mean I was a young kid & I moved in fifth grade. So I’m from San Francisco but out here in the Inland Empire is where I was going to school & it’s where I picked up a camera & started DJing & started trying to explore my options & see what I like. “
“I always tell people that Danté was born in San Francisco but 1undred was born in LA.”
“I feel like I get a lot more love out here anyways just because I went to high school here. I feel more comfortable out here. So yeah, both the IE & LA had an impact on me.”
So I know that you’re in The Bay right now, do you plan to stay there or would you like to come back to LA?
“Actually, no. I’m gonna be in The Bay area for a little bit, maybe for about another year or so but I’m definitely coming back to LA as soon as I get my degree & get all my priorities right. I don’t want to move out here & then waste all that time being in school & not have my degree or anything like that. But I’m definitely coming back to LA.”
What’s your plan with school?
“I have one more year left. I know I’m going to go back to Arizona State, make sure I graduate from there. And then from there, hopefully I can go to somewhere like Google or Apple. That means I will be going back to The Bay but other than that, then I’m going to be coming back out to LA fer sure.”
What’s your degree in?
“Graphic information technology. So that’s pretty much like all the photography, graphic design, web design, all of that type of stuff.”
And how do you feel about Arizona & ASU?
“Well I think ASU is a good college, it’s actually fun but Arizona as a state kind of boring. It’s just a straight desert & the people out there to me are just kind of like, not weird but kind of rude sometimes. I just feel like being a Californian out there, they look at you differently. They expect you to be a certain way or they assume that you act like you’re better than them & that’s not true. But I still feel like ASU is a great school & I miss all my friends there. The classes are really good, the teachers are good, it’s a great school. I just know I won’t be there after I graduate.”
This weekend is MLK’s birthday weekend with his national remembrance day on Monday, if he was here with us today would you have anything to you would like to say to him?
“I would definitely thank him for having a brighter mind & a open mind to inspire diversity. I like working with all types of races & different types of people from different nationalities. I feel like we’re all one human race & that’s all he cared about & about loving each other. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of violence, — there’s a lot of stuff going on right now & I know if he was still alive he would be making sure that people would remember the bigger picture, which is about loving each other. No matter what we look like or what we do. He was a really inspiring person but I would definitely thank him for doing all that he did, in a non-violent way as well. There are people that have good intentions but they don’t know how to execute them well. He knew how to execute them well in a non-violent way which was really great.”
Is there anything else you would like to add or say to any of your followers or to anyone that is reading right now?
“I appreciate everybody that supports me. Anybody out there that wants to do photography, modeling, or whatever you want to do, you need to just pursue it. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it or that ‘everybody is a photogrpaher, everybody is a model’. Only the real one stand out. If it’s a phase for you then yeah, you probably should just stop but if you really love something, you should pursue it. It’ll take you far. I had a lot of people tell me in high school that the camera wasn’t going to take me anywhere or this & that but like I said, I’m in LA & I did’t have to pay for anything. People are paying for stuff for me, moving me around, just because I show a lot of passion. So show passion in everything that you do, whatever it is. I don’t care if you’re collecting postcards, if that’s what you like, then do that. That’s the important part. Don’t let people tell you or kill your vibe. If you really love something, don’t be ashamed about it. You only have one life so you should live it the way you want to live it & that’s it.”
DANTÉ JOHNSON: Website | Instagram | Tumblr | Twitter
💯 ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF DANTÉ, DUH. 💯