Seven ages of a creative: Liz Johnson Artur

Over the past 30 years, the London-based photographer and Turner Prize-winning artist has used images to offer new perspectives on the Black experience. She talks about finally getting recognition for her work in her 50s

For this special project, we talk to 12 creatives and designers aged 19 to 87 about their experiences in the creative industry, their hopes and dreams, the changes they have witnessed during their career so far, and what further developments they hope may come in the future. This time we talk to photographer Liz Johnson Artur, aged 57

“I grew up with my mum – most of my family was not around me. A lot of my family was actually represented in photographs,” recalls Ghanaian-Russian photographer Liz Johnson Artur, who was born in Bulgaria and raised mostly in West Germany. This personal experience illustrated the power of the medium to Johnson Artur and foregrounded the making of her most significant body of work, the Black Balloon Archive, which writer and curator Ekow Eshun has labelled “a family album” for the African diaspora.

The Black Balloon Archive is made up of Johnson Artur’s images documenting people of African heritage around the world. The project has lasted over 30 years, and features impromptu photographs of people young and old, in clubs and on the street. Her photographs are multifarious, with no rigid characteristics other than a visible mark of trust in the subject’s gaze. “What I discovered in photography was that I could create images, and be in control of the narrative of the images,” the photographer says.

The communities that interested her “were photographed for various reasons, but never for the reasons that I looked out for, which were just everyday moments and seeing how people live. Picking up the camera helped me to visit these communities and get my own record, if that makes sense.”

Top: Photographs from the Black Balloon Archive; Above: Portrait of Liz Johnson Artur. All images © Liz Johnson Artur