• March 11, 2015

Picturing an Imaginary Animal Kingdom

Sarah Leen

I first saw Simen Johan’s work at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City a couple of years ago.

I was totally struck not only by the beauty of the imagery but also by how much it expresses, in a very personal way, ideas about habitat, climate change, critical species, and man’s impact on nature.

Picture of a constructed image of a buffalo sitting in what looks like a desert of ash
Untitled #153, 2008

These are ideas that are very important to us at National Geographic. We report these issues in a documentary, photojournalistic style, while Simen expresses these concerns in a conceptually artistic way that is deeply emotional. It appeals more to the heart than the head. His work presents questions and challenges us, as creatures that are all sharing the same planet, to look at nature from a fresh and provocative perspective. I find this moving and stimulating in an entirely different, but just as powerful, way as our more realistic approach.

Picture of a constructed image of two flamingos standing next to one another with their necks wrapped around each other
Untitled #163, 2011

Every year in January we have our annual National Geographic Photography Seminar. It is a gathering for photographers, professionals in the photo industry, and National Geographic staff to celebrate and be inspired by great photography and visual storytelling. We invite select photographers to come and present their work to us. We look for work that is fresh, challenging, even unpredictable. I invited Simen to show his project “Until the Kingdom Comes” because it does exactly that.

Proof invited Simen to say a few words about his work.


PROOF: Your work shares some of the same subjects as traditional nature photography and might even be mistaken for it, but your conceptual approach is very different. Are you influenced by that kind of work?

SIMEN JOHAN: Some of my work emulates traditional nature photography, and there’s some intended irony in that. But there’s also sincerity, because I really do enjoy making beautiful images of nature. Beauty alone, though, doesn’t echo my experience of the world, which is more complex and multilayered, so in my versions of “nature photography” I also incorporate darker qualities.

Picture of a constructed image of a moose that is frozen with icicles hanging off it it
Untitled #159, 2010

PROOF: How does your process free you from the constraints of straight nature photography?

SIMEN: A few of my images actually are straight photographs, but because I’m more interested in what the world feels like rather than looks like, it’s rare that I see something that I want to simply photograph and not change at all. When constructing or manipulating images, I’m still limited by whatever raw material I’m able to capture on film, but I have more creative freedom to be imaginative.

Picture of a constructed image of a lemur perched on a tree, sitting upright holding a flower
Untitled #169, 2011

PROOF: What are you trying to say that you couldn’t say in a straight photograph?

SIMEN: Nothing, really. I mean, I’m not a conventional photographer, the way a poet or a novelist is not a journalist, or a dramatic filmmaker is not a documentarian. The world as it appears is not enough of what I want to say. I like to create more than I like to observe.

Picture of a constructed image of two peacocks resting up in a tree
Untitled #178, 2013

PROOF: Is there a message in your project “Until the Kingdom Comes”? What themes are you playing with?

SIMEN: I work intuitively, and anything I might say about this work is afterthought. I do like to capture the world the way it appears when you look at things deeply and realize that things and situations are not what they appear. The familiar becomes unfamiliar and the boundaries between what’s real and unreal, or what’s beautiful and what’s threatening, begin to blur. The work is multilayered and open-ended, with biblical as well as political references scattered throughout, but ultimately it’s a visceral response that I’m after.

Picture of a constructed image of a white deer walking through the snowy woods
Untitled #140, 2007

PROOF: What was your work like when you were first starting out as an artist? How has it changed?

SIMEN: I originally studied film, but financial constraints pushed me into photography. Before there was Photoshop, I was staging and collaging images and doing darkroom experimentation with chemicals and such. My technical abilities have evolved, the subject matter has changed from self-portraiture to children to nature, but the core essence of the work has pretty much stayed the same.

Picture of a constructed image of white birds in a crabapple tree
Untitled #162, 2010
Picture of a constructed image of four giraffes standing on muddy ground with their heads reaching up into a misty haze
Untitled #172, 2013

PROOF: Do you ever worry that someone who isn’t familiar with your work might mistake it for reality? Has that happened before?

SIMEN: It happens, and I like when it does, because it affirms how deceptive perception is. Reality is an illusion. Meaning is pliable. That being said, I hope there’s an experience to be had beyond the relevance of whether my work is real or not.

PROOF: What do you hope your work makes people think or feel?

SIMEN: I hope they’ll think less and feel more.


See more of Simen Johan’s work on his website.

There are 172 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Anjaneya
    February 19, 2016


  2. Joseph Faboyede
    March 31, 2015

    Great shots. Thanks for your effort.

  3. Sydney
    March 30, 2015

    So stunning..Such awesome pictures taken here..

  4. saeed boroumand
    March 30, 2015

    very impressive

  5. Shahbaz
    March 29, 2015

    Amazing pictures,,beautifully fantastic

  6. gustavo lopez ayuci
    March 24, 2015

    Hermosas fotografias de lo que todavia hay en nuestra naturaleza

  7. Subi Bhandari
    March 24, 2015

    I loved all the pictures.

  8. Bhanupriya Namburi
    March 24, 2015

    photograhpy is ment to be like this.

  9. Miriam
    March 23, 2015

    Stunning photos!

  10. Fi
    March 23, 2015

    In this fast paced society we tend to forget what is out there..how many other species exist, how complex Earth really is, how we should learn how to live beside each other in peace.

    March 23, 2015


  12. Robert Dodge
    March 22, 2015

    Excellent pictures. They are beyond excellent actually.

  13. martine
    March 22, 2015

    Nothing to say, just admire….

  14. JISS
    March 22, 2015

    congrats SIMEN SIR! for your awesome work

  15. rita
    March 20, 2015

    mama mia……

  16. Sonia Fatima Urbano
    March 19, 2015

    So So Beautiful! Blessed Eyes!

  17. Kahn Arshad
    March 19, 2015

    Regula, Mar 15. I share your views. Every living thing is in perfect order and creation as that is how inner love and appreciation should work. Thank you.

  18. hallaji
    March 19, 2015

    let,s pray for those that take these pictures

  19. Maryann Harvey
    March 18, 2015


  20. Shruti
    March 18, 2015

    Lovely pictures. So beautiful.

  21. Joanne
    March 17, 2015

    How could one not appreciate so very much, both the beauty of nature in itself and what the photographer has succeeded in capturing ? It is truly artwork and greatly inspiring ! Thank you for sharing Simen. I can assure you it was greatly felt.

    • Kahn Arshad
      March 18, 2015

      These pictures will be history for at the rate man is destroying the natural habitat of ‘ our protectors’ for for the future, nothing will be left to cherish or even survive. Most habitable land had been taken over by man for his greedy needs and only marginal land is left, that hardly support both mankind and other living fauna and flora. Many species of animals and plants became extinct and now man need to engineer his needs that actually is not so safe.

  22. Dr.G.Sarmah
    March 17, 2015

    Wonderful capture of the amazing nature. Thanks for sharing.

  23. BIJI K B
    March 17, 2015

    waww… awesome photos… really stunning…

  24. Robert Dodge
    March 17, 2015

    These pictures can not be valued at any price. They are priceless.

  25. G. Brumfield
    March 17, 2015

    I too would like to add to my earlier comments. It’s as though your subjects are realer than real, beautiful and fantastical like Rousseau’s images. 🙂

  26. betty pond
    March 16, 2015

    Beautiful work….you have the gift to capture both object and sensual feelings

  27. Renee Wolfe
    March 16, 2015

    These photos are simply stunning!! I thought they were real at first!!!

  28. hesam azmi
    March 16, 2015

    Thank’s for all .

  29. Sreenivas
    March 16, 2015

    No wards to describe these lovely Pictures. I can simply say WOW

  30. Timothy Chauhan
    March 16, 2015

    All creatures of our God and King,
    Beautiful, fantastic photography

  31. Bill Adams
    March 16, 2015

    Absolutely Wonderful!

  32. Surekha Lakra
    March 16, 2015


  33. Umesh Vats
    March 16, 2015

    No Words & No Comments fr it . . .

  34. Carla
    March 16, 2015

    Thank you for the beautiful glimpse of animals. When I see the photos, I think of the animal, what we are doing to protect it for the future, and hope that we make changes so future generations can seethem.

  35. Harriet Foster
    March 16, 2015


  36. Anna Maria
    March 16, 2015

    A breathtaking dream of beauty and elegance. Last glimpse at something that will never be again.

  37. Joe Cullen
    March 16, 2015

    Awesome Photography!!!

    March 16, 2015

    Sarah…thank you for putting the spotlight on simen’s stunning work…they not only entertain us but also set us thinking …about ourselves..and the earth we inhabit…

  39. Arvind
    March 16, 2015


  40. Kristina
    March 16, 2015

    Magical! My favorite is the Giraffe’s – can’t stop looking at it!

  41. Victoria
    March 16, 2015

    Thank you for sharing… Beautiful!

    • Kahn Arshad
      March 18, 2015

      Whether these pictures are imagery or real is not the point but appreciation of a great work that has aroused the feelings of thousands. How many have seen these animals in real life? I have and do have some photos of my own though many chances were missed due to the elusiveness of the animals. Many animals are caged in Zoos, more of being imprisoned than kept for their safety and survival. Does man has any feelings for animals? Not all do!

  42. Lola
    March 16, 2015

    Sublime pictures and sublime animals!

  43. Gianfranco Antuono
    March 16, 2015

    Che dire? E’ un fantastico, indimenticabile spot per promuovere il regno animale

  44. Willie Vera
    March 16, 2015

    A beautiful stunning work Congratulations Simen

  45. Hamid T. Moghaddam
    March 16, 2015

    Wonderful ! Beautiful ! Amazing ! Great !

  46. Saleem
    March 16, 2015

    Wonderful!!! no words to explain!!!!

  47. sang lee
    March 16, 2015

    These are the BEST I ever seen

  48. Tady Saczkowski
    March 16, 2015

    This Inspires me . Thank You Tady

  49. Vijaya
    March 16, 2015

    Nice and Rear Pictures of Animal I had seen in my LIFE

  50. Avril Hollenbach
    March 16, 2015

    In total awe!……

  51. Paolo
    March 16, 2015

    immagini eccellenti sotto tutti i punti di vista. Bravi

  52. b thottoli
    March 16, 2015

    Awesome ! Monkey Art Gallery

    March 16, 2015

    Oh dear, Oh dear, i wish i could join you on your photography trips. You are a very visionary photographer and i wish you the best. Good luck.

  54. Ahmed Bahgat
    March 16, 2015

    This is a Brilliant Silence Moments in the animal Kingdom, Sure it’s mean something for them but we still not know the Language,actually I like it

  55. G. Brumfield
    March 16, 2015

    Ursula Le Guin wrote: I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. (I’m pretty sure it’s from the preface of _The Wizard of Earthsea_.)
    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/u/ursula_k_le_guin.html#SAfGhMwsuSdi6pQB.99

  56. Heather Tripp
    March 16, 2015


  57. Kirke McKenzie
    March 15, 2015

    amazing clarity, conformation and depth

  58. Pierre Jean
    March 15, 2015

    Impressive, breath taking and beautiful !!!

  59. Amy
    March 15, 2015

    I’m so glad I opened the link and spent some time with Simen Johan – I will look for more!

  60. Regula
    March 15, 2015

    Immensely beautiful images. By projecting man’s dreamworld of kings and queens, magical dear, dandies and the transitoriness of all being by manipulating his nature photographs accordingly, Simon Johan shows with intense clarity that in their innermost nature man’s desire for perfection is the desire to recapture the beauty and grace of nature in him/herself and that, at every step in history, the most pertinent forms of society are but an imitation of nature – stolen feathers.

  61. Karen Laurence-rowe
    March 15, 2015

    This is fantastic work – he totally “gets it” We must have him on Artists Against Extinction!

  62. Cristi
    March 15, 2015

    Seems few people read text anymore. He very clearly states that these are not photos of reality. They are hyper-manipulated.

  63. Heinz Obermite
    March 15, 2015

    …and it’s better than that… I just HAVE to leave additional commentary to what I just posted: upon spending some time with Mr. Johan’s photography, I have decided he is Photography’s J.M.W.Turner…
    Astonishing, nourishing & energizing!

  64. Heinz Obermite
    March 15, 2015

    These are Good!!
    Simen, your work is Transcendent and Visionary!
    When artists attain this excellence, they are, inDEED(!), Making the World a Better Place!

  65. Priscilla KAiser
    March 15, 2015

    Absolutely gorgeous

  66. Mg
    March 15, 2015

    Breath taking!

  67. mercy
    March 15, 2015

    no words can describe

  68. Mary Kohns
    March 15, 2015

    This brilliant artist has painted my
    “dream world, and all the beauty and living animals contained therein. A brilliant and exquisite

  69. A J Frederick
    March 15, 2015

    These are beautiful images, not only photographically, but spiritually as well. Life, death, beauty, all intertwined. Thank you.

  70. Virginia Annette Jenkins
    March 15, 2015

    Superb images. I really love the loving flamingoes!

  71. Kahn Arshad
    March 15, 2015

    Fantastic! How could anyone destroy habitat for such beauty that sustains flora and mankind together? The photographer did a great job, with much sacrifices that others could appreciate.

  72. Bina Ahmed
    March 15, 2015

    Just beautiful

  73. Felix
    March 15, 2015


  74. Felix
    March 15, 2015

    Wonder world of photography.

  75. Mario Hernandez
    March 15, 2015

    Awesome pictures, would like to know how the dears or something died

  76. Garrett Soulen
    March 15, 2015

    Those pictures are breath taking. I’m sure shooting animals is not easy, especially the ones that want you for lunch. Awesome!

  77. Marsha Long
    March 15, 2015

    Fantastic photos!

  78. Barbara
    March 15, 2015

    utterly captivating

  79. Paolo Pintus
    March 15, 2015

    So beautiful

  80. Sherry
    March 15, 2015

    your work illustrates how our brain joins the dots … Bold, humorous and unconventional.

  81. Susan
    March 15, 2015

    I just kept gasping in the beauty of these photographs – how wonderful to feel the wild life – lovely.

  82. Hassan
    March 15, 2015

    Great pictures. Than you for sharing them with us.

  83. Nel
    March 15, 2015


  84. Manuel García de POlavieja
    March 15, 2015

    Great modern Leonardo….

  85. KAY
    March 15, 2015


    March 15, 2015


  87. Julie Anne
    March 15, 2015

    Breath taking beauty. The best I’ve seen of animals in photography.

  88. Susan
    March 15, 2015

    Beautiful pictures!

  89. Dan Hikuroa
    March 15, 2015

    Tino ataahua – very beautiful.
    Intuition as method – I love it

  90. farhan sayyed
    March 15, 2015


  91. Rita köhler
    March 15, 2015

    Wunder voll einfach

  92. Debbie
    March 15, 2015

    How could you give a title to these? Their beauty is beyond words.

  93. LR Bullock
    March 15, 2015

    Your photography is magnificent! The photo’s shown here tell (and tell) a terrific story about a horrific truth. One saddly, ignored and passed off as mere liberal rant, as perfectly demonstrated by Mr. Butler’s ignorant comment. Your artistry is breath taking. Thank you, Simeon Johan. And thank you, Ms. Leen for sharing these with us.

    March 15, 2015

    …wow, just wow! very impressed with your patience in capturing the moment…and what moments they are…Thank you for sharing your work with the world.

  95. Lena
    March 15, 2015

    Stunning, looks like paintings…..the colors and images really evoke the feelings you are trying to capture. Beautiful work.

  96. J P Abascal
    March 15, 2015

    Your gorgeous pictures exude art and also impeccable timming

  97. Alice Glanville
    March 15, 2015

    Is possible to buy prints?

  98. shelley n. little
    March 15, 2015

    my fav … bestill my heart …

  99. karen
    March 15, 2015

    I love your photography, there is a pure dreamlike state about them, a world yet to evolve. beautiful.

  100. Hamlin Grange
    March 15, 2015

    Words fail me!

  101. Jettie Benfield
    March 15, 2015

    Thank you because so few will ever see these other than through your eyes. I am greatful.

  102. Della M Picconi
    March 15, 2015

    These are very beautiful,..you have captured these magnificent specimens in their great beauty,..

  103. John Belanger
    March 15, 2015

    National Geographic has marvelous artwork and photography, that why this poor boy who lives on Social Security alone subscribes to NG.

  104. Joe Reisman
    March 15, 2015

    beyond photography–a treasure

  105. Randy Butler
    March 15, 2015

    Hey Leen, No. 159, is that climate change? Shame on the Dem’s minions.

  106. Susan Sarabasha
    March 15, 2015

    Glorious! What patience and imagination to not only wait to photograph the elements but the work too. You are a master in Photoshop as well. Went to your website but it isn’t loading. Would love to know where you are having shows in the future.

  107. J.C. Sodergren
    March 15, 2015

    I call myself a photographer, but these images are very humbling to say the least. They are magnificent!

  108. H D Sharp
    March 15, 2015

    What God has made, you have captured the beauty! Where are your exhibits???

  109. Sandra Nesbit
    March 15, 2015

    Important work. Perhaps if more of us begin to feel the loss…more of us will do something to stop it. Thank you for doing your part. Namaste.

  110. Nya Byron Fossberg
    March 15, 2015

    Really wonderful!

  111. Ivan Jodiwongso
    March 15, 2015

    Photographer has done a great job..must have been very difficult but also awesome to be there an take those pictures!!

  112. Belen
    March 15, 2015

    Great wisdom in your photographs and words.

  113. Thomas Barton
    March 15, 2015

    Absolutely fantastic !!!!

  114. Don
    March 15, 2015

    Just wonderful. My favorite part is the philosophy behind it. It’s all about the multilayered depths of feeling & perception. Thank you!!

  115. Jim Cernohlavek
    March 15, 2015

    Revelatory, captivating, some are quite disturbing.

  116. Julie
    March 15, 2015

    doesn’t anyone find these photos creepy, like a cabinet of curiosities? I find them contrived and “stuffed”, like taxidermy. Right off-putting.

  117. Michael C
    March 15, 2015

    Now this is something completely new. Amazing. I like how the context is important, rather than just being a background. Will look for a book.

  118. paul fredine
    March 15, 2015


  119. Mary
    March 14, 2015


  120. Jason
    March 14, 2015

    Hi, am really stumped as to what type of ape or monkey that is, they have no tails so they cant be monkeys but cant seem to find them under apes? Do you know.

  121. Minhquan
    March 13, 2015

    It’s awesome!

  122. kunhitayil
    March 13, 2015

    awesome, stunningly captivating shots!

  123. Sabine
    March 13, 2015

    Incredible works of art! Or “credible” rather? as they look so real you have to stop and think twice. Truly wonderful.

  124. pooja
    March 13, 2015

    What a Amazing animal kingdom !

  125. Lynne
    March 12, 2015

    If I could make up a word for your work, it would be “FABULOSITY”!! Thank you so much for expanding my world. Keep on keeping on.

  126. Shehzad
    March 12, 2015

    Image’s from HEAVEN

  127. almalki abdullrahman
    March 12, 2015

    Wonderful subject and truly inspiring images
    Thanks Sarah Leen

  128. Javier Martos
    March 12, 2015


  129. Mano
    March 12, 2015

    God and forms of conscience… wow!

  130. makhfi inam
    March 12, 2015


  131. Mahesh
    March 12, 2015

    Just wow. I don’t know what it is about #1 (monkeys), but it made my heart feel sudddenly warm. Maybe the colors in it. All beautiful pics.

  132. MaryAnn
    March 12, 2015

    Peacocks DO stand on tree branches. That’s where ours always roosted at night. It was pretty amazing to see them get up there, big wings flapping, all those feathers lifting into the air…

  133. ever paba b
    March 12, 2015

    impecable trabajo

  134. deepanker
    March 12, 2015

    i think these images have the power of the expression which an animal can not express…….

  135. nicole pillay
    March 12, 2015

    Love the pictures, absolutely beautiful ,the peacock and giraffe is my favourite 😀

  136. March 12, 2015

    That peacock is standing on a tree branch!!!

  137. boubarne
    March 12, 2015

    sublimes photos

  138. annick
    March 12, 2015

    amazing, stunning (y) (y)
    this makes my day, thank you 🙂

  139. Jennifer
    March 12, 2015

    Gorgeous work.

  140. Ada Chornelia
    March 12, 2015

    what a beautifull creatures..love them very much :3

  141. bhupendra chauhan
    March 12, 2015

    No one can surpass God’s creativity.Be it expressed by humans.

  142. Ray
    March 12, 2015

    “It appeals more to the heart than the head….”Yes, but…just a perfect arwork…

  143. Mai Hassan
    March 12, 2015


  144. Chris Phefferkorn
    March 12, 2015

    Mixture of Gods creations and you. Perfect!

  145. esi
    March 12, 2015

    fantastic pics!

  146. HARISH
    March 12, 2015


  147. mr.gopi
    March 12, 2015

    Really super…10000000…… likes I give….

  148. tony chase
    March 12, 2015

    Great love your art work

  149. Aditya Octora
    March 12, 2015

    I think, you and your friends work so patient to get those awesome pictures. I hope you can give more fantastic picture again with your friend. Nice picture for Simen Johan and Friends.

  150. mhd
    March 12, 2015

    the power of the nature

  151. Manwell
    March 12, 2015

    Bison majesticy fighting, approaching night, surpizing grizzleys , contrasting pairs/mates , floating flamigos and giraffes on another plane. Beautiful whiteness
    Great job


  152. Badhan chowdhury
    March 12, 2015

    beautiful pictures . i really like it. u r such a great .

  153. Dini Ari Murti
    March 12, 2015

    Huwaaaaaa stunning!!!!

  154. Jacqui
    March 12, 2015

    Beautiful and imaginative, nice work!

  155. Joe
    March 12, 2015

    Animals are awesome

  156. Mojtaba
    March 12, 2015

    Magical shots! It’s like someone painted some imaginary pictures in his mind. The color compositions, the perspectives and the uniqueness of the captured moments all suggest a profoundly enlightened story is being told.

  157. lawana
    March 12, 2015

    MAN i love these beautiful awesome pictures. The natural world is soooo pretty thank you for these awesome pics.

  158. Minna
    March 12, 2015

    Amazing and fantastic photos!

  159. Raza Javed
    March 12, 2015

    So beautiful…

  160. Suresh Haridas
    March 12, 2015

    Beautifully and expressively done !

  161. juliuslim
    March 11, 2015


  162. jean
    March 11, 2015

    Really beautiful.. I love it!

  163. Michelle
    March 11, 2015

    So beautiful!

  164. Heidi B. SPivack
    March 11, 2015

    Simen’s photos are beautiful and when I view them I have a higher appreciation of the animal Kingdom.
    Seeing his photos life size at an exhibition is an experience not to be missed.

  165. Sarah
    March 11, 2015

    beautiful work .

  166. Julieta
    March 11, 2015


  167. yoselin roman
    March 11, 2015

    This animals are amazing!

  168. kanika kaushal
    March 11, 2015


  169. Melody
    March 11, 2015

    Your artwork is absolutely stunning! I got lost in another world. Thank you!

  170. cindy
    March 11, 2015

    Reality is an illusion! BEAUTIFUL Nice Shooting. Your work is really more a “Painting”

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