Her work includes the critically acclaimed documentary features Cameraperson, Dick Johnson Is Dead, Citizenfour and The Invisible War.
New Society member Kirsten Johnson says that her work “stems from deep interests in cinema language, the power of the camera and the ethical complexities of filming.” She attended Brown University — where she studied fine arts, literature and society — before studying cinematography at La Fémis in Paris, France.
Johnson has served as cinematographer on a number of award-winning documentary features, including Citizenfour, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; The Invisible War, which was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar; and Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. She was also an additional camera operator on Fahrenheit 9/11, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. For their camerawork on The Oath, Johnson and director Laura Poitras were awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.
Johnson directed and photographed the acclaimed autobiographical documentary Cameraperson, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The feature was shortlisted for an Academy Award; won the National Board of Review’s Freedom of Expression prize; won three Cinema Eye Honors; and won the Grand Jury prize at nine international film festivals. The picture was named one of the best movies of 2016 by The New York Times and The Washington Post and is distributed by the Criterion Collection.
Her most recent feature as a director, Dick Johnson Is Dead, was made in collaboration with her father and premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling. The film also garnered Johnson two Critics' Choice Awards, for Best Documentary Feature and Best Director. (The project is featured in the December 2020 issue of American Cinematographer and online here.)
Johnson’s extensive camerawork in documentaries also includes the features This Film Is Not Yet Rated; Election Day; Darfur Now; Lioness; No Woman, No Cry; The Program; 1971; and A Woman Like Me, among others.
Her forthcoming credits include the documentary feature Oscar’s Comeback and short A Thousand Mothers.