Interview with Johnny Nghiem (@jhonny_5)


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? 

My parents took a lot of photos when they moved to Toronto. There were so many beautiful moments that without those photos, I’d forget it. One photo, in particular, was one of me when I was about 4 years old and my white t-shirt was filled with berry stains. We had just gone strawberry picking and my mother left me by the basket where I had my personal buffet.

That moment gave me a sense of pride as someone who can save memories for others. I started with street photography then moved onto portraits of musicians such as Mac Demarco and Hozier.

I still prefer street photography as those are unseen moments but every photo has its own story, one that I hope to capture just as my parents did.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started doing this? 

Besides being a semi-photographer, I’m also a music curator for channels such as Colors ( and sometimes my two worlds collide.

It was 2018 and I just finished directing a live session for Hozier. It was a 4-hour shoot and he was playing that night in Berlin to 5000 people. I was in charge of taking photos as well and as hectic as it was, I found a quiet corner and there was a flower sitting there, dying. He simply picked up and said “Morrissey?” and I nodded.

I didn’t think anything of that photo but little did I know, it was shared thousands of times when it was released and I didn’t get credit, but that didn’t matter. I knew it made people happy so that was enough for me.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? 

The only thing I can recommend to help my colleagues thrive and not burn out is so managed your own time. It’s so vital to find your own space where space is usually taken over by projects and motivation. As much as your body needs rest, your mind needs just as much or maybe more. Find time to focus on other things such as cooking which then turns into discipline and time management. You can’t expect to grow if you don’t let your surroundings grow too.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story? 

A lot of what I do I can attribute to Zach Hertzman ( who is my best friend and an inspiration to my work. He let me be his photo assistant when I didn’t know what to do with a photo camera and little by little, our projects grew. I was no longer his assistant but his colleague and we shot projects together as one.

Our friendship is how I deal with projects and that’s to let things come and not overthink. Just like how hard it is to predict how things turn out, even mistakes can be beautiful too.

And mistakes I’ve made, but ones I cherish.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? 

I’m not sure if success if what I’m after in all of this. I believe that success is just an idea and as some might chase in terms of monetary or glory, I just like to give comfort with the visuals I create and a sense of found memories.

What I do is present a visual landscape that makes me happy and I spread that by letting my audience daydream with me for a little bit.

I find that by giving good energy to people even if you don’t know them brings good results. I try to preach creating your own style creating your own time because if you have that figured out, you’re in cruise control.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life? 

My favorite life lesson quote is “never forget the landscapes from your memory.” I don’t remember who said that but it has stayed with me for so long. I have a pretty poor memory so I document my daily activities by taking analog photos and keeping notes on my phone. Sometimes when I’m down I scroll through my notes and old photos and it reminds me of who I am. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, I want to have flaws and be able to work through them.

I ran into a childhood friend last year who I haven’t seen in 25 years (I’m 35). It was a bar in our old neighborhood in Toronto and I remember a rush of memories that flooded. All I could think of was so much happiness when I saw Robert. I remember that he always had all+- the cool Lego sets and that his mom made the first bowl of curry I ever had. That there, I wish I could have a visual representation of, but that’s alright too, I’ll just keep it in my head selfishly.

How can our readers follow you on social media? 

Instagram – @jhonny_5

Twitter – @wonton_dumpling

Website –

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Johnny Nghiem (@jhonny_5)

Renature (@renature)