Street photography, when successful, discovers just how articulate the benal and everyday landscapes of our lives are. As a documentary photographer, whose work in this collection speaks to the 1970s, Robert Johnson makes the human subject integral to its environment and ueses TV, windows and billboards to develop the relationship between the human subject and the street as always in communication. This communication in effect becomes a reflection of history.
In the photograph above, repetition dominates thes scene until it is interrupted by the man sitting on the bench. Rectangles line the walls, the ceiling and the bench; and, as if by some consciousness of the wall itself the bench appears as an extension of the wall, protruding if only to provide a seat for this man. With this in mind, the existence of the man– the existence of the interruption to the repetition appears necessary.
Johnson documents the 1970s paying special attention also to a signature shape of the decade. In furniture and decoration design during this time rounded edges and circles were a sign of modernity. In the two shots above an arch entrace to an exhibit and a rounded table indicate that the these places are newly constructed with spacial trends in mind.
Johnson’s photographs of TV’s, through shop windows and of billboards are especially vocal. The image of Charles Manson framed by television is espeically iconic of the 1970s when in 1972 after the Supreme Court of California eliminated the death penalty, Manson’s death sentence was changed to life imprisionment. Similarly, the view through a drugstore window of a boy drinking from an “old-fashioned” soda bottle eminates the age. Cigarette ads paper the windows and a rack of vinyls stands between the boy and the window, both objects and advertisements specific to the period.
Advertising is a particularly interesting subject in Johnson’s photodocumentary of this period. The 1970s advertising industry is appropriately documented in the photo above as a barren valley. Lack of advertising innovation during this period is overshadowed on either side by the 1960s when advertising peaked on television and the 1980s when cable television saw even more advertising strategies, i.e. QVC. The expression of the man in this portrait, indicates that the novelty of the advertising industry at this time had worn off. Also, there is also a curious irony between the audience to whom the sign is directed and the subject himself.
Johnson gets at the 1970s from numerous angles, both literally and conceptually. His recognition of the shapes of the age, the figures that defined a decade and the vehicles used to communicate this period are informative and intriguing, providing an in-depth visual representation of history.