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.
Paris, a long time ago, a self portrait, the tower. Camera at arms length, shot straight up, low percentage, Leica M4-P, no meter. Just a click. But I got it. I like it.
The first image is the straight print, Kodak Ektalure, the second, developer spread by hand, then flashed, stopped and finally fixed.
This print was in a box, a handmade box, with many other prints, made in a darkroom in San Diego that was literally a cave. Printed underground, hung to dry on a clothesline, like something out of a movie.
I forgot about this print. I forgot about all of these prints. They were left in my smoking hot garage, over the years, through the elements, and a few weeks ago I found them, resurrected them. Saved them.
Even through all the heat, dust, summers, winters, they looked just as I had left them, as if they were brought from a tomb.
I look back on this image with hyper-fond thoughts. I was working for Kodak at this time, mostly in Southern California, but I had convinced them to allow me to attend the Visa festival in Perpignan. We were on our way and stopped over to spend a few days in Paris.
At the time, I could not do any kind of commercial assignment, due to my working with Kodak. So, all I had were my M bodies and my tri-x. Photography was pure. I just shot whatever I felt like shooting, took my time, processed, printed in the darkroom cave.
I remember the shoes I was wearing, a style of sandal I had read about in the LA Times, and one I had seen over the years on my travels, Chupplies, or something along those lines. I had two pair made at an old shoe store in downtown LA, across from the paper. The shoe maker told he mine were the last shoes he would make. After decades he had closed up shop and began working in a factory in Long Beach.
I wore those shoes into the ground, a black pair and tan pair. I loved those shoes. I miss those shoes. I thought I would be able to find them again, but after all these years, nothing.
These images, for me, seem like they are from another life. So much has happened since then. Life seems to be much, much faster, much more filled, but there is much about this past time that I miss.
Paris is still there. I think. I’ve been there since, but don’t have any images I like more than this. Nor do I have any silver prints from the more recent trips. I’m working on that.
I wrote about dad’s, and mom’s and kids, and everyone else, just about, but not about wives. I’ve only “got” one, so I can only write from my limited experience, which is par for the course.
My “current” wife, is sitting right next to me, but has no idea I’m writing this, which is fun.
Cell phone glued to her ear, doing her daily routine, which is nearly all-encompassing, she is, as she is now, almost always by my side. Or vice versa, depending on how you look at it.
In short, I owe much of what I have, and much of who I am, in many important ways, to her.
Photography is NOT an easy business, especially when it is so much a part of who I am, and that can be difficult for anyone in close proximity to deal with. I get moody, possessed, deranged, inconsistent and selfish, and like Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump, she often finds herself at the top of the crow’s nest, facing down the storm.
I don’t think I could be doing what I’m doing without her. And I know for certain it would not be as fun, nor would my life be as fulfilling as it is.
As for photographs of her, I have many. In fact I have entire books, archives of her, which I continue to add to. In fact I just stopped writing and took a photo.
I’ve got Polaroids, of many sizes and shapes, 4×5 negatives, 6×9, 6×7, 6×6, 645, 35, panoramic, Holga, Lomo and even many strips of photo-booth images. I might have more images of her than anyone else, or anything else.
The images I have included here are a trip we made to Paris in November of last year. I was in Paris to work on a different project, but while I was there I made a second, secret project, of her, while she was following me around the city.
This secret project, “Le Bruit Des Pas,” or “Footsteps” is about her. There is actually an 8×10 hardcover book in my office from this shoot.
As you can see, many of the images she knows I’m making, but many others she did not. So, the entire thing was given to her, as a surprise.