SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco Recreation and Park officials held a dedication ceremony on Friday for the newly named David Johnson Photo Processing Lab, located within the Harvey Milk Photo Center at the Harvey Milk Center for the Arts at Duboce Park.
Johnson, 96, attended the ceremony, during which city officials presented him with a plaque, honoring him for his work. Johnson’s photography captured the daily life of San Francisco African Americans in the Fillmore District—from the neighborhood’s heyday in the 1940s and 1950s through the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Johnson, who was born in Jacksonville, Fla., first arrived in San Francisco after he served in World War II. He studied photography at the California School of Fine Arts (later the San Francisco Art Institute) under Ansel Adams and Minor White. Johnson was Adams’ first African American student. Both Adams and White encouraged Johnson to cover his day-to-day environment.
Between 1947 and into the 1960s, Johnson photographed people on the streets and sidewalks, as well as in places like barbershops, churches, social clubs, and juke joints. One of his most well-known photographs is “Clarence,” a portrait of a 5-year-old boy sitting on the steps of a Fillmore church. The photograph was chosen as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Picture of the Week in 1947. Johnson’s work stands out today as remnants of a bygone era when African Americans occupied a prominent presence in the Fillmore.
“I took the advice of my mentors and photographed and documented what I knew best. My work will stand the test of time historically and exceeds my expectations. For this I am grateful,” Johnson said.
Last year Mayor London Breed issued a commendation recognizing Johnson for his powerful and nostalgic work. His photography is currently on display in City Hall’s North Light Court through Jan. 6, 2023, as part of the “David Johnson: In the Zone (1945-1965)” exhibit.
“We are so fortunate for David Johnson’s work, which truly captures the essence of San Francisco’s historically rich Fillmore neighborhood and the experience of the African American community,” Mayor London Breed said. “As a native San Franciscan who grew up in the Western Addition, I am proud to know David’s name will now be displayed and his legacy will live on for generations to come through his photography.”
“David Johnson’s stunning photography captures a crucial period of Black history in San Francisco. His historic work is particularly resonant today as our city and country reckon with the legacies of systemic oppression and the contemporary realities of racial injustice and inequity for Black Americans,” Supervisor Dean Preston said. “With the dedication of the David Johnson Photo Processing Lab, we will encourage generations of San Franciscans to honor and appreciate the legacy of this pioneering artist.”
In addition to the naming the photo processing lab enter after Johnson, last year, Rec and Park also named the Harvey Milk Photo Center’s library the David Johnson Photo Library.
“David Johnson’s work captured not only everyday life, but it also captured historically defining moments like civil rights marches and protests. Today, his work serves as a time capsule and gives us a glimpse into an important chapter in San Francisco and U.S. history,” Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg said. “Having David’s name prominently displayed throughout the Harvey Milk Photo Center will serve as a reminder to all who visit of the cultural and historical significance of David’s photographs and inspire others to see through his lens.”
Johnson’s photographs were featured in the 2001 KQED documentary about the Fillmore District. In 2004, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom awarded Johnson the Certificate of Honor in Photography. And in 2011, Johnson received the Fillmore Heritage Pioneer Award.
The University of California at Berkely’s Bancroft Library is home to The David Johnson Photograph Archive, containing some 5,000 prints and negatives.
Johnson’s wife, Jacqueline Sue, released the book “A Dream Begun So Long Ago” in 2012, showcasing his photos and detailing his life.
The Harvey Milk Photo Center operates the oldest and largest community wet darkroom in the U.S. and has served the public since 1940.
To see Johnson’s work, visit www.harveymilkphotocenter.org/virtual-gallery/david-johnson/.
Pictures of Friday’s event: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/e1c1krpjjhb25y2/AAB8oTzxSntl_hrgGPt4bezQa?dl=0
Captions for the Dropbox pictures:
Pics 1 & 2: Photographer David Johnson
Pic 3: Unveiling of the plaque
Pic 4: The plaque
Pic 5: David Johnson and his family
Pic 6: David Johnson
Pic 7: Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg and David Johnson
Pic 8: David Johnson and his wife Jacqueline Annette Sue
Pic 9: Supervisor Dean Preston, David Johnson, Phil Ginsburg, and Rec and Park staff