Johnny Haglund – Documentary as a lifestyle

Women and a small child living by the train tracks.

People across the world live vastly different lives. Yet we are universally connected by concepts like ‘family’. That is infinitely captivating.

Johnny Haglund was 14 when he fell in love with photography. He spent a lot of time in the woods and wanted to capture with images what he saw in nature. The mentality of a documentary photographer was present from the beginning.

Thinking it wasn’t possible to make a living as a photographer, Johnny became an engineer. An engineer, who kept taking photos. Only when his images started winning prizes did he realize that perhaps it could also be a profession.

He knew it would require a lot of hard work to become a professional photographer, but realising a dream was worth the effort. He started looking up places, people and adventures that other photographers might found too difficult, too uncomfortable or just too time-consuming to reach.

Returning from a 42-day trek in the jungles of Papua, Indonesia, in 1994, he finally managed to sell his first story. He says it still took him years to learn to take good photos. He wasn’t a natural with the camera, but he has always been good with people. It is easy for him to get his subjects to trust him and feel comfortable in front of his camera. Perhaps because he has a genuine interest in people.

Johnny loves diving into different, unknown and from his point of view – strange environments to document daily life, work and religious practices. He also loves climbing, trekking, diving, and especially speleology. “Finding an unknown cave, or an old WWII bunker, and entering this dark world with my camera… Then coming out with images that describe what I’ve experienced. It is more than a job to me,” Johnny explains.

Johnny Haglund, a documentary photographer
Johnny Haglund, 55
Documentary photography

Johnny has always been attracted to the way people live far away. Not necessarily geographically far, but different from his world. The tribes in Papua certainly fit the description. On his travels there he has heard several stories about cannibalism and many people believe it may still be happening somewhere deep in the jungle.

Johnny is planning a two-month trek to Papua in 2021: “It sounds quite brutal, and I am not sure it will be possible, but I would love a chance to join a group of cannibals having dinner –only as a photographer, not as their dinner guest, nor the dinner dish!”

Johnny uses a special trick to get permission to take photos. He takes images of his family, and the King and Queen of Norway with him when he travels to remote places: “If, for instance, a man in Congo sees a photo of my family, he understands. Because he too has a wife and children. And when I show an image of the King of Norway and say, ‘this is my chief’. The man will then point out his chief, and suddenly we are not so different after all!”

More inspiration from Johnny? Read about his photo shoot in Brasil: From jungle to favela

Johnny Haglund’s kitbag

Johnny Haglund’s favourite kit includes 2x Canon EOS R6, RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM, RF 70-200MM F2.8L IS USM, RF 600MM F11 IS STM + Extender RF 1.4x, RF 35MM F1.8 MACRO IS STM, Speedlite 600EX II-RT, Speedlite transmitter ST-E3-RT and PowerShot G9X Mark II. He uses a hard case to protect the cameras, and also packs a small flashlight, a digital voice recorder, a hat, a helmet, his press ID and passport as well images of his family and the King and Queen of Norway.