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Block Magazine

Creativity has its place
Spring/Summer 2021
issue 22

The Big Picture

We spoke to Toronto photographer Richard Johnson about running his own studio/gallery on the Esplanade: everything from choosing the right location to opting against walk-ins and how COVID-19 has turned out to be good for business.

AS TOLD TO: Stacy Lee Kong

PHOTO BY: McKenzie James

Richard Johnson poses in front of light table as he reviews his film photography.

I don’t really exist in the internet world, other than for a bit of publicity. There’s a huge market, but that’s just not where I fit—it’s difficult to understand what you’re buying in terms of scale and colour and texture and all that stuff. So I’ve always had a display space of some kind to show my work.

We are on the second floor, but we were okay with it being a little bit of a destination, because it’s a by-appointment space. That fits well with our lifestyle, and right now, when people make appointments, you know that they will be buying. They’ve driven down from Forest Hill, they’re parking the car and they’re coming to see the work—there’s going to be a sale at the end of that two-hour meeting. Time spent is a good investment.

Part of the reason for being in the Esplanade area is that we’re close to the financial centre. The intention was to have people come over from Bay Street and do presentations for them. That’s one way of capturing a target audience.

COVID has been a surprisingly beautiful moment for us. We have a bunch of inventory from shows that we’ve done over the years and never sold. When COVID came, we ended up offering these pieces for curbside pickup. We had no concept that this was even a category of business, but it was a tremendous success. It kept us going through March, April, May and June. I just hope that we have the momentum to keep it all going. I have to stay positive and keep doing good work to make people want to come by and see the next collection.

THE BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER RECEIVED

“My barber once told me that when you are operating a business with posted hours, you must be there for those hours. The day you leave early and flip the sign to closed is the day someone will show up and you will lose that customer forever. Maybe that’s why I prefer to operate with by- appointment hours.”

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