Johnny Barton had it pretty good in his 20s. After finishing a three-year program focused on advertising and creative arts, he was a finalist in an internship competition and ended up landing a gig as a copywriter with a successful ad agency. He had a great job with a good salary in his hometown of Perth, and spent his free time partying with friends, hanging with family, and surfing the waves of WA. By just about anyone’s standards, he was living the dream.
But Johnny quickly came to realise that everyone else’s dream wasn’t necessarily his. He may have had the ideal life, but he felt like he was missing out on something. Every day, he’d sit in his office and stare out the window, wondering if this was all that life was cracked up to be; work, party, eventually find a wife, then get old and retire. He knew that he wanted more, wanted to be able to look back at his life and have rad stories to tell, but he wasn’t sure how to go about finding that.
One winter, Johnny hit up a friend who owned a surf resort in the Mentawais and asked if there was room in the schedule for him to book a surf trip. His friend did him one better and offered him a gig as a surf guide. Johnny remembers this as one of the most terrifying decisions of his life.
He knew he wanted to do something different, something exciting, but his mind was full of doubts and fears. He’d be giving up a great job and a thriving career, trading in stability and security for an unpaid gig as a glorified surf bum. He struggled with the decision for a while, but ultimately decided to give it a go.
The ad agency offered to hold his job for six months, but by the next time Johnny was back in Perth, his career in advertising was long over. After a few weeks in the Mentawais, he’d expanded his job to include running photography for his mate’s resort.
Johnny was still an unpaid surf guide who worked for his room and board, but he was also shooting photos of all the resorts guests, who were more than happy to buy images of the best waves of their lives.
By the time the season was over, he’d go home with enough money in the bank to support his offseason and drop a bit into savings. Then, as soon as the Indo season started, he was straight back out to the Ments to do it all again. At 30 years of age, he’d thrown himself into an entirely new career—one that would end up giving him far more stories than he could ever have imagined.
A decade later, Johnny has become one of the surf industry’s most respected photographers. He was a finalist in the 2015 Follow the Light competition, where he won People’s Choice Award; has been a finalist and featured photographer in the Red Bull Illume contest on a number of occasions; has scored a handful of covers and hundreds of spreads in major international surf mags; and still goes back to the Mentawais every season to surf guide, shoot, and surf epic waves with the handful of lucky guests who can score spots at the resort.
He has also relocated to San Diego, where he married a local girl and recently received his US green card. In between surf trips, he shoots corporate gigs for a number of brands, contributes to these humble pages as well as Nat Geo, and is in the planning stages of building a home with his wife.
In other words, Johnny Barton is once again living the dream—but this time it’s his dream, the @johnnyjungle dream—and the rest of us have the pleasure of living vicariously through his adventures.
We suggest you take a few minutes from your busy day to scroll through this portfolio of “Jungle’s” work, where you will see what can happen when someone is willing to take a risk and trade stability for a decade of rad stories. Who knows—it just might inspire you to chase your dream, too.