David Johnson

Curator’s Statement

Looking at the amazing collection and historic and valuable time capsule, which David Johnson so skillfully photographed, one is easily transported into a realm of historic beauty, focused upon the Fillmore District,  which is located in San Francisco.

In the autumn of 2014, the Harvey Milk Photo Center hosted the David Johnson Retrospective, Gallery Exhibit, showcasing an extensive portion of his photographs. I wish to thank Susanna Lucia Lamaina, who assisted us with the curatorial aspect, as well as our incredible staff, who pulled out all of the stops in order to prepare the many images for our gallery, as this special exhibit was a major success. My memory recalls the hundreds of images that were delivered to our facility, box by box, which revealed such historical jewels, we knew instantly that these images needed to be shown and preserved. This collection is now held at the Bancroft Library,  Special Collections, at the University of California, Berkeley, California. We hope you enjoy this special dedication and panel discussion.

Click Here for the website info on the David Johnson, Photographer, Retrospective at Harvey Milk Photo Center, Autumn 2014.

Dave Christensen, Director
Harvey Milk Photo Center, June 2, 2021

Virtual Online Event: Photo Library Dedication for David Johnson, photographer, June 26, 2021, at 1pm-2pm/PST. This event is free, advance registration is required.

The Harvey Milk Photo Center, part of the San Francisco Rec & Parks Department, is honored to present our virtual presentation for our Photo Library, at Harvey Milk Photo Center, located in San Francisco, honoring David Johnson, Photographer.

Our facility is currently closed, due to the Covid pandemic, but we do hope to reopen Fall 2021.

We wish to thank Chris Boettcher, our Cultural Division Manager, with SF Parks & Rec. Department, for his generous and personal donation of custom bookshelves, as well as his time and carpentry magic. We wish to thank RE Casper, for his support with our website, and Laura Pinzon, graphic artist, for her design work. We also wish to thank the Bancroft Library for the donation of photographic prints, photographed by David Johnson, now displayed in our library.

We also wish to thank our special guest panel for their support on this project: 

Special Panel Guests:

  • David Johnson, Photographer
  • Jacqueline Annette Sue, Wife of David Johnson, Author
  • Dave Christensen, Director- Harvey Milk Photo Center. Producer/Director for this special webinar dedication.
  • Christine A. Hult-Lewis, Ph.D., Interim Pictorial Curator, Bancroft Library
  • LaMonté Bishop, Mgr. of Policy & Community Affairs, SF Rec & Parks Dept.
  • Stephen Goldstine, Former Pres, of SFAI, Dates, & Former Head of CCA Graduate Studies
  • Jeff Gunderson, Librarian, San Francisco Art Institute
  • Victoria Whyte-Ball, Ken Ball – Editors of the publication: “The Golden Decade, Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55,” published by Steidl, Göttingen, Germany, 2016

And a very special thanks to our friends at Aperture Books, for the incredible donation of photography books for our new Photo Library at Harvey Milk Photo Center.

David Johnson, by Al Gay, San Francisco, c.1947
David Johnson, by Al Gay, San Francisco, c.1947

Artist Bio – David Johnson

David Johnson was born near Jacksonville, Florida, in 1926. After serving in the navy during World War II, he moved to San Francisco to study photography at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) with Ansel Adams and Minor White. 

In fact, he was Adams’s first African American student. These mentors encouraged Johnson to photograph what he knew — San Francisco, and in particular, the Fillmore district. He had moved to the Fillmore shortly after arriving in San Francisco, having been told that that was “where the black people lived.” From about 1947 and into the 1960s, Johnson captured the neighborhood’s vibrant street life. 

He documented intimate, unguarded scenes of children, teens, and adults, either individually or in casual groups. He also took pictures inside institutions of everyday life in the Fillmore area: its churches, juke joints, social clubs, and barbershops. He photographed and participated in public gatherings, including civil rights marches, protests, and speeches. Johnson was simultaneously a participant in and gifted chronicler of African American life in San Francisco in the mid-twentieth century. The David Johnson Photograph Archive, with approximately 5,000 prints and negatives, is housed at The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. 

Christine Hult-Lewis, Assistant Pictorial Curator, Bancroft Library 

About The Golden Decade

Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55, published by Steidl, Göttingen, Germany, 2016 

Authors: William Heick, Ira Latour and Cameron Macauley, Edited by Ken Ball and Victoria Whyte.

Photographs by David Johnson reproduced courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

©The Regents of the University of California, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley holds the David Johnson Photograph Archive. A finding aid to the collection may be found HERE. Please contact Acting Pictorial Curator Christine Hult-Lewis at chultlew@berkeley.edu with any questions about the collection.

Dave Christensen
Director, Harvey Milk Photo Center

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