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David Johnson Captures Obsession: Dark Desires for Investigation Discovery

By Barbara Goldman


djohnson obsession

© DAVID JOHNSON
A stalker's image collection for the new TV show Obsession: Dark Desires  from Investigation Discovery.


New York City-based commercial and entertainment photographer David Johnson has an obsession with shooting people. Johnson not only captures the faces but the souls of his subjects, and for that very reason he was brought in for a most appropriate assignment for  a new show from Discovery Communications.

Johnson was hired recently by Creative Photo Producer Laura Adams of Discovery Communications for an all-new TV series called Obsession: Dark Desires  for the  Investigation Discovery network.  The series investigates what happens when an all-consuming desire has deadly consequence. The show offers intimate access to those who have suffered as victims of stalkers and to the emotional scars they bear.

Women share emotional stories of survival against obsessive stalkers who would do anything to satisfy an all-consuming infatuation. The 10-episode first season of Obsession: Dark Desires    provides a chilling look into the “why and how” an obsessive mind works and the devastating impact from delusional fantasy.

Creative Director Gregory Stein of Discovery Communications  came up with  the concept for  the Obsession assignment,.  Johnson was brought onboard to create the visuals that would feature a voyeuristic photo over the shoulder of an obsessed stalker looking over a wall, littered with photos of  subjects in a growing collection of images taken by the stalker.  The photography would show the stalker staring up at the work, as we the viewers catch the stalker in the process of deciding where the next photo should be hung in this collection.  


Collection of stalker's images. /© David Johnson

Although this was a one-day shoot, it presented quite a few challenges. Johnson had to create a “lair” that the stalker would be photographed in, and it would have to show photos taken from weeks or even months of stalking a subject. And present the photos in such a way as to create depth as if they had been collected over time.  “We worked with an amazing actor, Devin Compton, and literally stalked her around Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the first half of the day,” says Johnson. Compton had various wardrobe changes with different actions to portray the normal things anyone might be seen doing in the course of a day.  Wardrobe stylist Lisa Fries provided a wide array of wardrobe options that covered the look of many days and ranges of time.  Compton was given various directions and instructions and encouraged to “go about her day.”  Johnson used a 400mm telephoto lens to capture the actor’s movements, often shooting from behind cars or through car windows.  He also created an environment in the studio where he was able to shoot Compton in scenes through a window to give the illusion that the stalker was spying and photographing from the outside while the actor was in her apartment.


Devin Compton being stalked./© David Johnson


Johnson spent about three hours photographing the stalking, and as he was shooting his tech from Industrial Color was working with the art department to print out a variety of shots, in different sizes, colors, levels of distress. These were then added to the set as Johnson continued to shoot stills.  

The other part of the shoot switched out to show the stalker’s apartment.  “At this point, we were shooting to a comp so most of the set prep work was done and we were able to just focus on capturing different energies and actions from our stalker, portrayed by Alexander Kikis,” says Johnson.


Stalker in his apartment./© David Johnson

Johnson and his team worked with Peter Mayer of Peter Mayer Design to build the apartment scene that was converted from a corner in Fast Ashley’s Studios in Brooklyn. Mayer brought in furniture, props and was involved in helping to style the photos that were created to hang in the apartment collection.  Johnson shot with a Canon 5D Mark III with telephoto lenses to capture the stalking shots that would be printed on the wall and had an Epson printer on set.   “It was a dark and rainy day and the 5D gave us great images at high ISOs.” he says.  In the studio he shot with a Canon 1Ds Mark III to capture the final set shot used for the ad. Lighting was a combination of practical lights on set, supplemented with Profoto strobes.

Discovery Communications has been a regular client of Johnson’s.  He began working with them when he was based in Nashville, and the collaboration moved with him when he came to New York City in 2006.  He continues to work frequently with the Discovery  in-house creative team, which handles the publicity and marketing for shows on the individual networks under the Discovery Brand that includes TLC, Animal Planet, SCI Channel, Investigation Discovery, and Destination America.  In addition to  Photo Producer Adams and Creative Director  Stein, Johnson has also worked on earlier projects with other  photo producers  including Robin Scofidio, Kim Pazourek, Susan Wetherby and Karen Smith.

The Obsession: Dark Desires images are now being used as part of the advertising and publicity for the show with online ads. The show premiered January 14, 2014 and is on Investigation Discovery network  (ID),Tuesday nights at 10/9 PM central.

You can see more of David Johnson’s obsessions with people, motion and personal projects at his lair, www.davidjohnsontakespictures.com.

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