A living legend is making his mark with the next generation at UC Merced. David Johnson, who photographed important moments in African-American life and history throughout the 20th century, is seizing the opportunity to share his experiences with college students and others in the community through an exhibit of his work at UC Merced, David Johnson Photography: Past and Present Images,; now on display until June 19.
Learning about the past is important for university students, as they are in a phase of preparation,; Johnson said. They can help society further the struggle that my generation undertook during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.;
Johnson, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., was the first African American student of renowned photographer Ansel Adams. In Adams’ school he was advised to photograph his own neighborhood and document the faces and places with which he was most familiar. He subsequently became an important chronicler of black life in San Francisco in the middle part of the 20th century. His body of work includes photos of historical figures such as W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, A. Philip Randolph, Nat King; Cole and Eartha Kitt. He photographed historical moments like the march on Washington when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous I Have a Dream; speech.
The exhibit also includes depictions of day-to-day phenomena for the mid-century African-American community and Johnson’s current work documenting the change from rural to developed land in the Central Valley.
Today, Johnson says, he sees his role as that of a griot. The word griot comes from West Africa and describes a tribal elder whose role is to pass on stories and wisdom of the past to younger generations.
This is not just telling,; Johnson said. The activities of a griot may include images, song, dance.
I have had the good fortune of seeing tremendous change in the world,; he explained. My peers are passing, but a new generation is rising up. It is a great moment to be alive and pass on the history I have experienced.;