Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco’s Black tradition, dies at 97

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boywith lincoln 7d308f13e48242ab3e78020546c07fcff1660f14 s1100 c50 - Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

“Boy and Lincoln, 1963” by David Johnson. The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley cover caption

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The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

- Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

“Boy and Lincoln, 1963” by David Johnson.

The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

David Johnson typically wasn’t concerned about individuals posing for his digital camera.

Because the photographer and civil rights activist put it in a 2017 interview on the College of California, Berkeley: “An enormous smiling {photograph}? That wasn’t my fashion.”

Johnson died at his residence in Greenbrae, north of San Francisco, earlier this month. In accordance with his stepdaughter, he was affected by superior dementia and had pneumonia. He was 97 years previous.

Johnson was the primary Black scholar of the well-known nature photographer Ansel Adams and have become often called one of many foremost chroniclers of San Francisco’s Black city tradition.

In one in all his most well-known pictures, shot early in his profession in 1946, Johnson depicts a road nook in San Francisco’s Fillmore District — as soon as a hub for the town’s thriving Black neighborhood till redevelopment later within the century pressured practically all of them out.

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“Trying South on Fillmore, 1946,” by David Johnson. The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley cover caption

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The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

- Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

“Trying South on Fillmore, 1946,” by David Johnson.

The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

The picture has energetic angles and stark contrasts of sunshine and shadow. And it is shot from above. Within the UC Berkeley interview, Johnson stated he clambered up 4 tales on a close-by building scaffold to get it.

“I centered my digital camera and took one {photograph},” Johnson stated. “I used to be form of anxious to get this little job over with and return all the way down to the bottom.”

A troublesome childhood

Johnson was born in 1926 in Jacksonville, Fla., to an impoverished single mom who handed her child off to be raised by a cousin.

In a 2013 interview with San Francisco member station KQED, Johnson stated he obtained his first digital camera by promoting journal subscriptions door-to-door.

“I simply began snapping footage across the neighborhood. And I obtained form of fascinated with that,” he stated.

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David Johnson in 2023 with one in all his images, “Clarence,” at an award luncheon at UC Berkeley honoring the photographer. Peg Skorpinski cover caption

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Peg Skorpinski

- Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

David Johnson in 2023 with one in all his images, “Clarence,” at an award luncheon at UC Berkeley honoring the photographer.

Peg Skorpinski

Johnson was drafted into the U.S. Navy proper out of highschool. He was stationed in San Francisco, falling in love with the town, and was then despatched to the Philippines for the rest of World Conflict II. After returning, he needed to develop his pictures abilities in faculty.

It was 1946, and budding photographers have been clamoring to get into this system that grasp lensman Adams had simply launched on the California Faculty of Advantageous Arts in San Francisco. Its star-studded college included Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and Dorothea Lange.

San Francisco-bound

Johnson needed in. So he despatched Adams a letter.

“I wrote to Ansel and stated, ‘I am concerned about learning pictures. I’ve the GI Invoice. And I would love so that you can consider my [application].’ Ansel wrote me again and stated, ‘There are not any vacancies within the class,’ ” he advised KQED.

However a scholar dropped out, making room for Johnson.

He hopped on a segregated prepare that took him from Jacksonville to San Francisco. After residing in Adams’ home for some time, he finally discovered a low-rent room within the metropolis’s Fillmore District and began taking numerous photographs.

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“Eartha Kitt with Neighborhood Youngsters, 1947,” by David Johnson. The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley cover caption

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The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

- Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

“Eartha Kitt with Neighborhood Youngsters, 1947,” by David Johnson.

The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

Many of those pictures appeared a long time later in a KQED documentary concerning the Fillmore’s standing — and eventual demise — as one of many nation’s most vibrant Black neighborhoods.

“He would go to the golf equipment within the evenings, take unimaginable images of musicians,” stated Christine Hult-Lewis, the pictorial curator of particular collections at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which homes the David Johnson archive. “He had very straightforward relationships with individuals within the barbershops and the oldsters within the church buildings and people on the streets.”

Johnson stated his faculty instructors inspired these pursuits.

“Rising up, many of the images I’ve seen of Black individuals have been simply not very complimentary,” he advised KQED. “I stated, ‘My images could have Black individuals photographed in a dignified method.’ “

Documenting road life, well-known figures and civil rights

Hult-Lewis stated that as a contract press photographer, Johnson took candid photographs of Black celebrities who got here to city, corresponding to Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes.

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“Nat King Cole at Fairmont Resort, 1949,” by David Johnson. The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley cover caption

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The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

- Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

“Nat King Cole at Fairmont Resort, 1949,” by David Johnson.

The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

And he used his digital camera to spark conversations about civil rights.

“There’s one actually iconic {photograph} of a girl listening to a speech and he or she’s obtained form of a doubtful look on her face, however in her glasses are mirrored the American flag,” Hult-Lewis stated. “There’s one other unimaginable {photograph} of a younger African American boy sitting, holding an American flag within the embrace of a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln.”

Johnson additionally usually participated in direct political motion. He attended the 1963 March on Washington, and arranged the primary Black caucus on the College of California, San Francisco.

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“Reflections in Glasses, 1963,” by David Johnson. The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley cover caption

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The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

- Photographer David Johnson, who chronicled San Francisco's Black tradition, dies at 97

“Reflections in Glasses, 1963,” by David Johnson.

The David Johnson {Photograph} Archive, The Bancroft Library, College of California, Berkeley

“He was a part of a gaggle that efficiently sued the San Francisco Unified Faculty District to compel them to extra absolutely desegregate the colleges,” Hult-Lewis stated.

Johnson by no means grew to become an enormous identify like his trainer Adams. By the Eighties he’d stopped taking photographs altogether.

However curiosity in Johnson’s work has grown lately, as cities throughout the nation grapple with the detrimental impacts that city redevelopment can have. His work is within the assortment of main establishments together with the San Francisco Museum of Trendy Artwork, and was the topic of a solo exhibition at San Francisco Metropolis Corridor in 2022.

“The images inform life, life because it was then, life that can’t be duplicated or recreated in right this moment,” Johnson’s spouse, Jacqueline Sue, advised KQED in 2013. “It is a marker of historical past.”

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