Americana Girl: KU grad Emma Johnson talks fashion, photography, and life in Kansas City


Emma Johnson

By Aleah Milliner

With a love for all things thrifted and vintage, Emma Johnson, a recent KU graduate, is making a name for herself through her blog, The Bold Americana as well as her videography work for brands. She has an eye for personal style and is not afraid to be bold, wearing pieces that may surprise others. She says, “You have to risk people being like ‘what the heck’. Confidence is key.”

Growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada, Emma Johnson lived in a culture of superficiality, where money and appearance were the ultimate goal.  At 18, she moved to Kansas, not knowing a soul. Now, four years later, she has found a genuine community of creatives to surround herself with and grow in her art of photography and videography. She splits her time between Lawrence and Kansas City, a city that has an  influence on her and has been a place of community.

You can hardly call it a job when you are doing something that you love. For Johnson, working with brands means hanging out with friends—camping at the lake or a spontaneous weekend in Los Angeles—and using them to model products as she snaps the photos. Those brands include Fable, a shop owned by Tara Light selling her original designs, Sandlot, a leather goods company, and Future, a vintage clothing store specializing in denim jeans. Johnson has shot product photos for all three companies and calls the owners good friends. Many companies she works with are local Kansas City shops.

Johnson holds the Kansas City community dear—a city quite the opposite of her hometown.

“Everyone wants to move to Los Angeles or New York, which is so typical,” Johnson says. “There are so many big things happening in Kansas City and I love the people there. Being around such a calm atmosphere has helped me to not be afraid of what other people are going to think. I have found a very genuine friend group there.”

Along with her freelance work, Johnson writes her blog, The Bold Americana. The name of the fashion and lifestyle blog combines her love of coffee and her personal style.

“I have an American girl style. I try so hard to have my own style and be bold,” Johnson says.

The blog features style posts of Johnson herself, as well as other people she finds with unique style. Recently she blogged about Kansas City’s West 18th Street fashion show, an event she photographed at. Another recent post featured two Kansas City designers, their line called Covey, and the concept of “slow fashion.” Her blog is simple, letting the photographs speak for themselves. Her “about me” page tells of her love for all things 90’s and says “I hold on tight to nostalgia and cuddle my VHS tapes at night.”

“Without saying anything, it tells other people who you are,” Johnson says on why having personal style is important.

Her style is “sporty-chic,” a combination of feminine pieces and sports apparel (think Adidas). She credits Alexa Chung and Jane Birkin as her style icons. To achieve her look, Johnson shops mainly at vintage stores, searching for unique pieces and anything that speaks to her nostalgia (old band t-shirts for example).

Johnson’s favorite blogs include Man Repeller, Glamouri and Happily Greyall fashion and beauty blogs—though she admits she does not like to spend too much time looking at other creative’s work in an effort to keep her style and work unique. After reading through so many different blogs, it is easy to become influenced by the content.

The Bold Americana started while Johnson was still in high school and pushed her to create better photos. Her photography experience began with a tripod and self-timed photos capturing her outfits for her blog. Her next step was moving to Kansas and enrolling in the photo media major at KU.  As a photography student, Johnson slowly figured out what she wanted to do for a living.

She stumbled upon product videography, her current job, after being asked to shoot a promotional video at Alchemy Coffee. She shot a stop-motion video for the coffee shops owners, now good friends of hers, and her career began from there.

Now, Johnson shoots product photographs and videos for various brands she likes—lifestyle brands, skateboard companies, any brand that doesn’t make her follow certain rules. Her approach is unstructured; you can call her free-spirited. Johnson says she does not follow a specific plan and storyboards are not her thing. Instead, she comes up with ideas while driving around until an idea strikes.

“While I was in California, I didn’t have a plan,” Johnson says. “I just told all my friends that it would be cool if I took a bunch of video while we were there. I just took video of cool things we were doing and I gave them the video camera. It was so unstructured, but when I put it together, it was one of my favorite videos I’ve made. It has so much feel to it.”

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You can keep up with Emma Johnson on Instagram or her blog.