Esther Johnson (MA Royal College of Art) is an artist and filmmaker working at the intersection of artist moving image and documentary. She is former recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Research Prize for Performing and Visual Arts, and is Professor of Film and Media Arts in the Art, Design and Media Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University.
Esther’s poetic portraits focus on alternative social, marginal, and micro-histories, to reveal resonant stories that may otherwise remain hidden or ignored. Recurring themes include social narratives, personal histories, notions of testament and memory, heritage, folklore, regeneration, and exploration of architectural vernaculars and the inhabited environment.
Projects include socially engaged work that draws on oral testimony, lived experience and politics. The repositioning of archival material is explored as a way of looking at intangible cultural heritage, and as a way of addressing the relationship between history, memory and storytelling. The research and collection of oral histories is used throughout her work, as are methods of participation and collaboration.
Work is made for exhibition, cinema screening and broadcast through individual projects, commissions and residencies.
Her film works include: feature documentaries DUST & METAL (2022); ASUNDER (2016); and short films and installations Liberation Radio (2021); a ROLE to PLAY (2019); Abstractions of Holderness (2017); Alone Together: the Social Life of Benches (2015); Chalk Trace (2013); The View From My Window (2013), and Analogue Kingdom (2010). Recent photography was published by the modernist in Esther’s photo book The Beacons of Hull.
Work has exhibited in galleries, film festivals, and special events in 40+ countries, including at BFI London Film Festival; CPH:Dox, Copenhagen; Hull 2017; ICA, London; Landscape Institute, London; NASA, California; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam; Istanbul Biennial; Sheffield Doc/Fest; True/False, Missouri; Walsall New Art Gallery; and Tate galleries. Films have broadcast on BBC and Channel 4, and audio works aired on ABC Australia, BBC Radio 4, Resonance FM and RTÉ radio.
Support for Esther’s work has included Arts Council England; Arts and Humanities Research Council; animate projects; BBC; British Council (UK and Vietnam); Channel 4; Craignish Trust and Alchemy Film Festival; Creative Skillset; DCMS; Film London Artists’ Film and Video Award; 14–18 NOW; Heritage Lottery; Hull 2017; James Reckitt Library Trust; Jerwood Arts; National Endowment for the Arts, USA; National Lottery; Radio Arts; Science Museum Group; Screen Yorkshire; Sheffield Children’s Festival; Sound and Music; Sound Bank and Yorkshire Arts.
Esther has written for several arts and culture publications, has worked as an independent film/video curator, and has delivered audio-visual workshops in the UK and internationally.
Work is held in the special collections of British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection, Central Saint Martins; Science Museum Group; Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center, Buffalo, and Yorkshire Film Archive. ARGOS Arts, Brussels, and vtape Toronto distribute her artist moving image works.