Johan Persson, Class of 1989 (2022)

Born in Kristianstad Sweden, Johan Persson began his dance training at the Royal Swedish Ballet School before attending Canada’s National Ballet School in 1983 where he trained until 1990. It was at NBS that he was first introduced to photography in academic courses offered at the School.

Following his graduation, Johan went on to a professional dance career, first at The National Ballet of Canada where he was awarded the Erik Bruhn Prize in 1995 and became a principal dancer the following year. He then moved to London, England, in 2001 to join The Royal Ballet as a principal dancer.


Throughout his time as a dancer, Johan maintained his passion for photography by capturing images of his colleagues on and off stage, so when an injury prevented his continued pursuit of a dance career he naturally turned to his love of photography as both a professional and artistic way forward. After pitching a photography book highlighting the daily life of Royal Ballet dancers, the resulting book, The Royal Ballet 161 Images, provided a glimpse behind the doors of The Royal Opera House and marked the first of several photography books Johan would create. Beginning in 2003, he re-trained in photography at the London College of Communication, further developing the skills necessary for the role, many of which were already second nature as a result of his background in dance. As a photographer, Johan specializes in portraiture, advertising and production photography for film and live theatre. 


Since becoming a photographer, Johan has photographed several of the ballet world’s most prominent stars including Carlos Acosta, Marianela Núñez and Zenaida Yanowsky. He has also photographed actors ranging from Dame Judi Dench to Daniel Kaluuya and Keira Knightley to the recent ABBA Voyage show. Apart from his promotional and production photography, Johan has exhibited at Westminster, The Riverside Gallery (Richmond), the Mikimoto (Japan), as well as in solo exhibitions at The National Theatre, The Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), The Donmar Warehouse and Sheffield Theatres. His books include Pas de Deux: The Royal Ballet in Pictures, Garsington Opera: A Celebration, and A Decade at the Donmar: 2002-2012.


Johan is a member of The Association of Photographers and works out of his own studio based in Hackney, London.


“What wasn’t as obvious during my time at NBS was the effect my schooling would have on my second career. This career transition happened abruptly for me when a knee injury and the subsequent surgeries meant the certain end to my hopes of continuing to dance. There are obvious skills that are transferable from an education in dance to the role of photographer, including an eye for line, shape, timing and movement. But others which are useful in whatever you pursue: persistence, discipline, hard work and professionalism. There was a realisation when I re-trained that these attributes were the most valuable life skills I learned in my schooling at NBS.”


Photo Credit: Ben Delfont