Boy From Bridgeport: Photographer Johnny Fan

Johnny Fan Johnny Fan

Johnny Fan’s an artist whose aptitude and attitude have allowed him to embark on an artistic odyssey many of us would dream of. Barely into his 20s, Johnny Fan’s had the fortune to capture Chance, J.Cole, 21 Savage and more of these giant figures behind his tiny lens. The boy from Bridgeport never imagined living such a life, in fact, he had trouble imagining life at all as he dealt with severe depression as a child. Johnny Fan is an artist with origins not too unlike many kids from Chicago

Being poor in a place like Chicago means learning how to survive in a city that is often hostile to your existence. Johnny learned this at a young age he had to work to provide for himself and his family. Since he was 14 he’s held a job, taking on an adult’s responsibilities.

“The legal age to work in Illinois is 16. You have to get to work permit if you’re under 16. I remember distinctly going to the place to get the work permit. The guy there said ‘Are you sure you want to work right now? You are only 14.

In my head I was thinking yeah, I have to. I think that was one of the things that really created this, this like workaholic attitude given the circumstances that my family comes from and how we live. It was really tough.

Inoculated into the machine as a child forced Johnny to seek mental refuge elsewhere, he ended up finding it in the artists of his era, (Kid Cudi, Link Park, Pre-Maga Kanye). Hearing their authentic, vulnerable message played on the airwaves gave him the tools to articulate feelings and emotions that he couldn’t grasp. The distinguishing, catchy pop-like sounds gave these artists a platform to distribute their work to the masses, but for avid listeners like Johnny who absorbed every syllable, clung to every couplet, and re-listened way past the point of popularity, they became lifelong followers of these musicians.

“They talked about things that people dealt with and, you know, tough times. That shit saved my life. A lot of times when I was younger, I didn’t want to live anymore. I know that’s getting really dark, but that’s just how I felt. And I’m glad I didn’t lose myself to that, because I wouldn’t have been able to see all the great things that I wanted to do.”

College became Johnny’s way of building a future for himself and his family but due to finances, UIC was his only financially viable option. While at school he picked up a camera and began shooting randomly across the city. A friend took notice of his innate talent and eye for photography and invited him to shoot a concert. That one show was parlayed into a nation-wide tour with some of the biggest names in the business.

“One artist said I love your work. I want to keep working with you. And I was like, okay, great. Obviously, I didn’t think much of it, but he hit me up again the next day and was like, hey, let’s meet up. I was like alright, let’s do it. He told me ‘we’re going to South by Southwest, I’d Like for you to come. I had quite a few discussions and days of contemplation, but ultimately accept the offer and we did ten more festivals after that. That changed my life forever.”

We’re going South by Southwest, I’d love for you to come.

Balancing the schedule of a national tour and homework was never easy. The pressures of constantly traveling while in class forced Johnny to be strategic at times, looking at which classes required attendance, and which were more lenient on their grading scale. In the end he prospered, graduating while living out the dream.

With a few notches in his belt, Johnny’s now redirected his energies toward a new challenge.  He’s building his own agency aimed at supporting emerging artists that need a bit more fuel to propel them to the next level, Hiraeth Agency.

“I’ve learned so much from building it. Being able to build and lead a team and having that team execute, has really taught me a lot about being a human being, being a leader. I would say that was definitely one of the biggest lessons for sure because I’ve never done something like this. We’ve never done something like this. We were just doing it in the hopes that we were doing it right. Otherwise, we would have to learn the hard way.”

Ultimately, the purpose of the touring, Hiraeth, everything, is about providing access. Johnny’s end goal is to build opportunities for others like him and help tackle the tremendous lack of resources for his family, his community, and his city.

“You know, people, we can’t have access to certain things because of socioeconomic factors. I think that’s just stupid. And I want to be able to help alleviate those things or be able to support some of those things to be able to create access. You know, that’s that’s a big, big thing for me. And one of my life goals that, you know, help people who don’t have access and be able to provide them with that.”