Picture Perfect: From a Small Town to a National Tour
Even before graduating from college, art major Johnny Self has already accomplished what most professional photographers only dream of: He was the backstage photographer on the national tour for musicians 2Chainz and Nicki Minaj.
“I was shooting a lot of nightlife,” he said. “That’s how I really started meeting people.”
Johnny had been working with a promotional team that booked him to shoot gigs in the city. It was during one of these shows he met hip-hop artist 2Chainz, who was impressed by his work.
2Chainz was about to go on a six-week national tour with Nicki Minaj, and he offered Johnny the chance to join the tour as the backstage photographer.
“That was the first time I thought, ‘Wow, Johnny, you could actually be a photographer,’” Johnny said. “I thought, ‘This is a calling. This is a sign.’ It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
No one in his family had ever been to college. His family has a recycling business in Adairsville, Ga., and he was expected to join it. But Johnny wanted to do something different.
“I feel like I was programmed to do something else,” he said. “I wanted to be creative. I decided to go my own route and go to college.”
That decision would change his life and start his career.
Although he was bucking his family tradition, his parents supported his decision.
“It’s hard going against the norm in my family,” said Johnny. “It’s been a learning experience, but a good one.”
He was accepted to several private art schools, but soon realized the cost would be too high.
“I couldn’t afford the art schools that I got into,” he said.
Instead, he enrolled in a local community college and took two years of classes. His dream of going away to college once again seemed out of reach, but fate had other ideas.
“I like to say that Georgia State chose me,” he said. “I showed up on campus by total accident. I made a wrong turn. And without that wrong turn, I would have never have been here.”
Once he saw the campus, he fell in love with the school.
“It’s the best choice I’ve ever made in my life,” he said. “I was blown away.”
After growing up in a single-stoplight town, Johnny knew he wanted to be in Atlanta.
“The city is where I need to be,” he said. “It’s where my career has led me.”
Johnny quickly got involved with student life events on campus, and started following the music scene in downtown Atlanta. By spring, he was photographing concerts downtown, and by summer, 2Chainz had asked him to join the tour.
The tour went to almost every major city in America.
“We were in a different city every single night,” Johnny said. “The experience was breathtaking.”
Johnny’s goal was to showcase the artists and capture their life on the road. Traveling on the tour bus was unlike anything he had done before, and he got to know all the members of the show.
“Nicki Minaj told me I was cute,” he said. “That’s something I will never forget. That was my favorite moment.”
Johnny credits Georgia State with helping him start his career.
“If it weren’t for Georgia State, I literally wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity,” he said. “And that’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
This article is part of Generation Georgia State, a series that highlights the academic, personal and career accomplishments of Georgia State students, alumni, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend college.