Johnson, Hightower photos captured the past for the future

Published 12:01 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

A photograph is a moment frozen in time. And when those moments span 100 years, it’s incredible the stories they can tell, said Richard Metzger, executive director of the Johnson Center for the Arts in downtown Troy.

“In October, we will celebrate the 100th year of the former Troy Post Office,” Metzger said. “The historic building now houses the Johnson Center for the Arts. And, to celebrate this milestone event, the Johnson Center is presenting the exhibit, ‘Looking Through the Lens: 100 Years of Photography.’”

The exhibition celebrates the work of two South Alabama photographers, Holman Johnson, a professional photographer from Troy, and Draffus (D.L.) Hightower, an amateur photographer from Clayton.

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“Both of these men documented everyday life and, by doing so, they captured a rapidly changing and disappearing agrarian society,” Metzger said. “The ‘Looking Through the Lens’ exhibition spans the 20th Century.”

Because of the close kinship between Pike and Barbour counties, Metzger said the “moments in time” captured by these two photographers will strike a chord with many people in both counties and bring into focus the past for those too young to remember or to have known.

Manuel Holman Johnson was born on a farm in Dale County in 1910. In 1935, while living in Troy and working for the Jitney Jungle, he married Ethel Jordan, from Midland City, who was a student at Troy State Teachers College.

“Both Holman Johnson and his wife had grown up on the farm, so they both had an appreciation for the rural community,” Metzger said. “After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Johnson tried to enlist in the Army but was turned down because of some dental problems.”

Johnson was a ham radio operator and was asked by the United States government to teach radio at the college.

In 1944, Johnson was drafted into the U.S. Navy and finally had his chance to serve his country.

“It was in the Navy that he became a photographer,” Metzger said. “When he came home from the Navy, he opened a photography business in Troy, a business that spanned nearly a half century, from 1946 until 1990.”

The Holman Johnson photography exhibit is titled “Pike County and Beyond” and features Johnson’s work that includes scenes from Troy and its fringes.

“The people and places in some of Holman Johnson’s photographs have not been identified and we are asking the public to provide us with any information they might have,” Metzger said. “So, in that sense, the Johnson exhibit is interactive.”

Hightower’s exhibit is titled “To Remember a Vanishing World’ and the photographs were selected from those published in 2007 in the book by the same title.

“D.L. Hightower was born in 1899 in Clayton where his family owned a Chevrolet dealership,” Metzger said. “As he traveled around Barbour and neighboring counties selling Chevrolet cars and trucks, he realized that the world he knew and loved was vanishing at a rapid pace. He knew that unless these people, places, events and activities were captured on film, they would be lost to future generations.”

Hightower’s passion was to capture the agrarian culture of the rural South with his little black box lest it slip away and be all but forgotten.

He used an ordinary Kodak box camera and little by little he froze moments in time.

Like Johnson’s photography, Hightower’s “world” spans nearly a half-century from the early 1900s until 1965.

“These two men captured the rural South, each in his own way,” Metzger said.

“They preserved the past for all of us know and appreciate.”

The exhibit continues through Nov. 13.

“We encourage people of all ages to visit the Johnson Center and view the past through the lens of these two outstanding photographers,” Metzger said. “They have preserved the past for the future and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.”