A white stag caught in a sun-dappled snowy forest; a weary, majestic bison resting on a dusty plain; a sleuth of bears feeding from a pile of refuse; a proud llama with a Poodle-cut coat; these are just some of the majestic, mysterious creatures photographed by Simen Johan in his ongoing series Until The Kingdom Comes. Painstakingly creating each image from traditional photography (the animals are, for the most part, real, and photographed at zoos or farms) and digital techniques, Johan has fashioned a strange but believable world filled with almost mythical beasts, and devoid of humans. Did the animals finally rise up and devour homo sapiens, or is this a primitive world before man made his mark? The work is open to interpretation, and Johan is not fussed about providing an answer. He likes the unknown, and the unease that creates. Born in Norway but based in New York since 1992, his work explores our use of fantasy to try and compensate for things we can’t easily explain. As he says, “we construct meaning by necessity, allowing fantasy to shape our experience of reality. Religion is the prime example of how we create myths to alleviate fear.”
The contemporary painter Walton Ford explores similar themes, and he too has fashioned a fantastical animal kingdom in his work, but Johan’s chosen medium and the sheer believability of his photographs makes them that much more sinister and powerful. Looking at his images, the viewer senses something is amiss and feels they aren’t real, but its hard to pinpoint exactly why they’re not. In the few unmapped wildernesses still left on the Earth, perhaps there are majestic animals such as this still ruling their lands.