by Monika Barta
This year Black History Month goes beyond the calendar limitations at Dominican University of California.
The Struggle of Human Rights and Beyond, an exhibition of historical photographs taken by David Johnson, is available for visitation Feb. 7 through June 7 at the Joseph R. Fink Science Center Gallery.
"The name speaks for itself,” says Sandra Chin, the Director of University Community Exhibitions, when asked why is the exhibition, initially meant to honor the Black History Month, is being held for four months. "These photographs are beyond inspiring and beyond important; they do not need an occasion to be celebrated," she adds.
Chin also mentioned that senior graduation attracts relatives and loved ones of the students to the campus every June, "It shows that our university is multinational and welcoming to everybody".
The Struggle of Human Rights and Beyond is a collection of all black-and-white professional photographs that carry a message, or some might say, a reminder of great importance to students, and to those who witnessed the struggle of human rights throughout history.
The author of these photographs, David Johnson, has witnessed and captured the evolution of the black civil right movement. He is “pleased to live long enough to see positive changes in America" and to "pass these photographs to other generations, like the students of Dominican".
Johnson found his passion for photography in his early years. His talent was first recognized when he shared the pictures he took during summer vacation, which he spent visiting his relatives in Washington D.C. with his high school class.
“They were amazed with my pictures, I was struck by their response. Maybe this was a message for me,” Johnson comments as he looks back at the time when his career choice was made.
"The racist South and segregation was a big factor in seeking a school in the North", says Johnson recalling that time of his life. However, thanks to his foster mother’s support, this fact did not stifle his interest in photography; little did he know, his dedication would soon pay off.
His hopes to become a photographer were lifted after reading an article in a local magazine when he noticed that Ansel Adams was becoming the Director of Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, located in San Francisco.
"During World War II we were sent to San Francisco, California,” the photographer comments as he remembers his time in the Navy, "I fell in love with the city".
Johnson immediately wrote a letter to Adams, "I said I wanted to apply to the school, and mentioned that I was a negro.”
Even though at first Johnson was put on the waitlist, after a week, he received an acceptance letter and his career took off; he was now the first African American student of Ansel Adams.
Johnson says his aim was to make photographs instead of taking them, and his new home, the Fillmore district in San Francisco, was the perfect environment to do so. He found fascination in realistic photography rather than in landscapes. "Life and time of everyday people going about their daily lives, musicians, and children playing on the street" inspired the photographer.
"A little boy sitting on Lincoln's lap, a lady holding a sign we can, they tell their stories through these photographs,” said Johnson, and follows up by adding how happy he is to be able to show the younger generations what the world was like back then.
The Struggle of Human Rights and Beyond provides an opportunity to take a close up, realistic look to the lives and struggle of African Americans as they fought for their rights six decades ago.
Simplicity and truth, so highly valued by Johnson, are clearly shown in his history-breathing photographs that are currently displayed at the Joseph R. Fink Science Center Gallery, Dominican University of California.
More information about Johnson’s life and career can be found at the Dominican library in a book A Dream Begun So Long Ago written by his wife, Jacquiline A. Sue.