Tom M. Johnson…Paris

I met Tom M. Johnson a few years ago while attending the Palm Springs Photo Festival. He had a really solid body of work, completed over many years and relating to a subject he had known since childhood. During the festival, those chosen as slideshow finalists have their work presented at night in the Annenberg Theatre at the Palm Springs Art Museum. This is one of my favorite parts of the entire festival because the attendees know how important this is to the finalists, so when someone has great work the crowd lets them know. Each time Tom has been presented he’s had great work. This year was no exception. The work below is described in the intro to the film. I was intrigued by the project and wanted to share it with you all. Check out his site, linked above, and let him know how you feel.

24 responses to “Tom M. Johnson…Paris”

  1. LionelB says:

    Rules are made to be broken but the Vespa and the Dyane should go … 14 lines but 29 ! terminals or teminuses or termini ? I must check.

    • @Lionel,
      To answer your second question first. There are 2 lines that have 3 terminuses. Line 12 to the NE forks N to Asnières-Gennevilliers and NE to Saint-Denis. Line 7 to the S forks to Villejuif and Mairie d’Ivry. So that would add up to 30. However, Nation is the SE terminus for both Lines 2 and 6. Thus, excluding ( My choice ) 3 bis which runs from Gambeta to Porte des Lilas there are 29 ends to 14 lines.

      2nd, I’ve gone back and forth with the Vespa shot, but I kept it in because my wife likes it. And because she has to endure so much shit from me, I try to make her happy whenever I can. The image was made with a 0.5 screw on close-up filter made by Hasselblad that I mounts onto my 80mm, the lens I use for 95% of the images I make. I rarely use the filter, but I don’t believe I’m breaking rules with it when I do. Finally, the other image you write must go, Dyane, what photograph are you referring to? I do appreciate your comments. That meant you carefully looked at it. Thanks

    • Smogranch says:

      Tom Johnson checking in. I love this, and I knew there would be some good feedback here. Lionel is playing on the home team so I figured he would have an opinion. He has had some of best comments on this site…thanks guys.
      I was never good in math. 29, 30…doesnt’ matter to me. Anything over ten and I’m impressed.

    • LionelB says:

      I had figured that Nation is like Hammersmith. Some join and some split. 29 it is. The Dyane is a ‘luxury’ hehe version of the 2CV. Like the Vespa it is an icon of 1960’s Paris – shades of Amelie. For me, it is the images of now that the project is for. Side-stepping nostalgia was a strength. An echo, a link, is the riot. Students then, banlieues more recently. Not to say that your project should have been about riots! The starkness of the housing and the vibrancy of the ethnic mix is the essence but you have also shown that there is beauty in the street-scene and laughter in the faces. That makes it real.

    • Smogranch says:

      This is really a pretty monumental scale of a project. There is so much potential but Tom probably needs more time on the ground. It’s a reflection of every major city in the world.

    • Now I’m embarrassed. All along I thought that car was a Renault. Oops, I admit I am not a car guy. Taking on Au Bout de la Ligne was an incredibly naive endeavor. The Dyane was photographed near Mairie D’Issy, and neither that image nor car would you see in La Courneuve. My point, it’s impossible to define in 40 images what exists at the end of the line, because what exists at the 29 different termini is the extreme variety of culture, class, and wealth that makes, some would say for the good others not, of Ile de France. So to Lionel, nostalgia exists at the end of the line as well as many hyped up angry, aggressive Arab teenagers. It all depends on which end you exit. A part of the inspiration to photograph Au Bout de la Ligne evolved from the project of photographing my suburb in south east Los Angeles. And like a silly American, I was expecting to see a similarity and to define what exists in another country with a provincial USA mindset.
      That written, naivité has its advantages. If I knew then what I was getting myself into I would have never taken on the project, and then I would have missed out on so many unique experiences-such as the time I was chased back to the metro by about 15 angry teenagers in Saint Denis, the conversation on France’s chances of winning the world cup with a bar tender in Créteil, stepping on a nail in dilapidated building in Villejuif, sharing a joint with 3 guys who live on a boat near Pont de Sevres, where one of them told me that Americans do not appreciate the quality of the moment, the conversation with a young man in Bois de Boulogne as to why he prefers sex in the park, the calm I felt while walking within the Pet Cemetery near Asnière-Gennevilliers, etc., etc. Sadly the project remains unfinished- the negatives sit on a shelf, the scans on my hard drive. I would love to have another year to finish it, but that would require more resources than I have, and my wife would take our cats and leave me if I brought the subject up with her. So, the slideshow was the projects “Coup de Grace.” and unless we win the lotto I must good-bye to it and its many memorable souvenirs. Au Revoir.

    • Smogranch says:

      We can all agree it IS a car. Let’s start there…

    • LionelB says:

      Completely off topic but I have a fond memory of sniggering loudly alongside an octogenarian in a bar as FC Porto slaughtered Sporting Lisbon, to the sullen glares of the Lisbon supporting youths crowded around us. I too have been to the Bois de Boulogne but claim the amendment.

    • Smogranch says:


      I think getting pounded while traveling is a rite of passage we should all enjoy at some point.

    • Reiner says:

      @ Tom: this makes it worth again to stay on the net to watch great work of others. As a Citroën aficionado I have to correct the Dyane story here: sorry folks but one of the most beautiful european cars of the sixties/seventies is called Ami, french for Friend. The Ami 6 was breathtaking, the Ami 8 was still a car worth turning your head for when passing. Thanks for including the shot. It made me smile from ear to ear.

    • Smogranch says:


      Crap, now I have to look these damn things up. I see a car blog in the future….

  2. Smogranch says:

    At least you guys HAVE a metro!

  3. E says:

    Woah! it’s been a while since I left Paris, to me it’s a real portrait of the city I knew. Theses sad faces while going in or out of the city; the occasional fun; the coffees; the omnipresent, often misguided, pride; the peoples. The peoples, the remembrances of my friends, life, the good and the not so good days..

  4. Randy says:

    I see again how important it is in telling a story, that the photographer put context into what it is he is showing. The images each have their own story. Among the bigger story. I caught myself at some images saying, ya but no life… Look again there are signs of life, or without persons but we know where we are. An end of the line. Really good stuff.
    Thx Dan for letting me see Tom Johnson’s work

  5. Yann says:

    Tom – Interesting angle to approach Paris. It’s difficult to figure out how to photograph this city without getting into clichés but your idea seems to help you out of the trap. Although, I am not sure about the couple kissing in front the entrance of the St-Lazare station.

    • @Yann, my homage to Doineau; however, unlike his mine was not staged, St Lazare is the terminus for ligne 14, and a little cliché never hurt anyone. Cheers, T

    • Smogranch says:

      I order my cliche on the side.

    • Smogranch says:

      I think the cliche thing is really important. You are right, it’s really easy to get sucked in, but this is one way to REALLY force yourself to understand why you are doing something. You show the work, we say, “Cliche.” and you, or Tom, or anyone has to dig deeper.

  6. LionelB says:

    The cliche of the flat cap peasant on a bench has an edge to it. The scene could be 1950 but there is a string of graffiti running down the seat which tells us otherwise. The blot on the expected brings in a tension. Only good of course if tension is the idea.

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