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Randy Johnson: MLB Legend Turned Photographer

Photography by Randy Johnson

Photography by Andy Johnson - African elephant
MLB Hall of Fame Randy Johnson debuts his second passion since retiring from baseball.

MLB legend Randy Johnson made his mark with his baseball career and has the hearts of thousands of Arizonians. Named one of the best baseball pitchers of all time, Johnson’s talents and fierceness on the field go without question. After his retirement in 2009, many have asked, “What now”? Johnson has transitioned his unparalleled hand-eye coordination from the field to capture magnificent scenes of the world through his keen eye and talents with photography. 

For those unfamiliar with Johnson’s impressive past, he was an elite athlete known for his intensity on the field. Nicknamed “The Big Unit” for his staggering height of 6 ’10”, Johnson is also the tallest player in MLB history. With pitching speeds of 97 mph, 1,703 runs and 303 game wins in his career, Johnson’s place in the MLB Hall of Fame is incontestable. 

His athletic career cements his legacy, and he is famous for his ferocity as a top-performing athlete. However, Johnson always remembered his second passion in life, photography. 

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Randy Johnson taking pictures

"When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I had one of those Instamatic cameras that I would use for family trips and vacations. My interest grew as I got older. I began taking courses in high school and shot for my college newspaper. I began to understand film photography and cameras. I had a lot of fun doing it. But photography took the back seat when I started my Major League Baseball career," Johnson says.

Since retiring in 2009, Johnson has transitioned his focus from baseball to freezing moments in time through the power of the camera. Johnson’s reputation opened many doors for his new photography career, including museums contacting him about exhibiting his work. 

“The biggest opportunity I’ve had was having my first exhibit,” Johnson recalls. “I enjoy sharing my photography through my website and Instagram, but when I was asked if I wanted to have an exhibit in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, I thought, wow, this is amazing! It’s like being called up to the major leagues.”

Elephant photographed by Randy Johnson

Johnson captures all of the beautiful things about life, from concerts, where the energetic atmosphere radiates through the images of the performers, to travel, where Johnson encapsulates the wonders of nature and culture into a still image. 

“I love capturing the moment,” Johnson remarks. “I am always trying to capture the moment. I feel like taking a photograph is really about the opportunity that presents itself and the timing of that. It may only be one frame, but being able to capture something at one moment, everybody seems to know exactly what you were feeling, seeing and experiencing.” 

On his recent excursion, Johnson traveled to Africa to immerse himself into the culture of the land, connecting himself with its wildlife, people and terrain to capture the essence of what Africa represents and provoke feelings in those who have yet to experience the beautiful destination. 

African lion photographed by Randy Johnson

“When we talk about my experience in Africa, we’re talking about animals, the tribe people of Ethiopia, the vast desert, dunes and 700- to 800-year-old petrified trees in Namibia. I’m trying to capture a little bit of everything. I’ve trekked into the mountains in Rwanda, so I got close to Silverback Gorillas.”

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Johnson’s images are moving to view and help one understand the process and patience it takes to capture the captivating images, which is equally inspiring. 

“The animals don’t stop and pose for you,” Johnson says. “I get out there by six in the morning and don’t come back until six at night. Hopefully, during those 12 hours, you come back with pictures you’re happy about. I have lived in tents and driven 12 hours through the Kibish mountains to get to tribe villages. It’s not like it’s easy to capture; it’s extremely difficult. That makes me appreciate photography more because I know it’s difficult.” 

Karo Tribe in Ethiopia by Randy Johnson

The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts noticed Johnson’s work and recently began a partnership to showcase his photography in his second exhibition.

“These opportunities don’t present themselves often,” Johnson explains. “I just enjoy it now, and if it continues, I’m lucky to have something beyond this next exhibition. This has been a great run and experience.” 

The exhibition not only displays the results of hard work and dedication Johnson puts in to produce striking images but also strives to bridge the gap between two worlds—sports and art—with one legend, Randy Johnson. 

Randy Johnson with camera

“Growing up, there was always this notion that artists were artists and athletes were athletes,” Gerd Wuestemann, president and CEO of Scottsdale Arts, explains. “When you think about it, so much of what makes a great athlete is also what makes a great artist. I am fascinated with the idea that arts and athletics come together.” 

Johnson’s sports fans can now attend the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts  exhibition and immerse themselves in the art world, allowing them to observe the overlap between athleticism and artistry. 

While Johnson is aware of his intimidating reputation as a former athlete, he hopes his art brings another side of him to light to the public. 

“The side that people probably know of me was a fierce competitor that was intimidating. I was always kind of demonstrative on the mound,” Johnson explains. “Now that that’s all over, people come up to me and talk about photography and what they like about a photo, and it has even inspired people to go to the destination that I’ve captured in my photos.” Johnson’s latest is now open at the  Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts exhibition until April 28.

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