I met Nicholas Johnson at a Seattle zine fair nearly a decade ago. He was peddling Shark Fear, Shark Awareness at the time, and through a mail correspondence I kept up through his zine projects that were engrossing accounts of his time as a sperm donor (Burning the Ancestral Chi) and an ESL teacher (Kongju-si: Letters from Korea). His fast and trashy vid making was a big inspiration to my own initial forays into making little movies, and he actually wrote a DIY article for this site.
Big Dead Place (Feral Press, 2005) is his latest and greatest project to date. Nicholas spent the last couple of years living in Antarctica, doing the joe-jobs that keep the research labs based there functioning: washing dishes and compacting garbage. I knew from the couple of e-mails that he’d sent that his stories about the place would be hilarious and fascinating: what I didn’t expect was how deftly he would weave together the historical tragedies of Sir Robert Scott’s bungled exploration with the bureacratic tragedies of bungled room assignments. Populated by lewd characters and outlandish scenarios, it nonetheless ignores the easy targets in favour of putting forth a journalistic work of depth and craft.
I shot him a couple of questions via e-mail.