Exhibit shows ‘the way things were’

Published 9:03 pm Monday, September 27, 2010

Jerald and Carolyn Brantley of the Banks community were among the many visitors to the Johnson Center for the Arts on Sunday. The arts center hosted a reception for the "Looking Through the Lens" exhibition that features the works of two local photographers, which span about 100 years. For the couple, the exhibition was a walk down memory lane. (Photo/Jaine Treadwell)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then 120,000 words were spoken over and over again Sunday afternoon when the Johnson Center for the Arts hosted a reception for the “Looking Through the Lens: 100 Years of Photographs” exhibit.

The exhibit featured the work Holman Johnson, a Troy professional photographer, and Draffus (D.L.) Hightower, an amateur photographer from Clayton.

“This exhibition capitulates and preserves the way things were in Troy and Pike County and Clayton and Barbour County during the early to mid-1990s,” said Richard Metzger, Johnson Center executive director.

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“These photographs are nostalgic and also bring back memories as recent as last week. ‘Looking Through the Lens’ is a remarkable exhibition.”

The exhibition will run through Nov. 13 and will be a part of the 100th celebration of the former Troy Post Office in October. The post office is now home to the Johnson Center for the Arts.

“The celebration of the100th birthday of the Troy Post Office building and the ‘Looking Through the Lens’ exhibition come together in a strong way,” Metzger said.

“We invite everyone to visit and revisit this remarkable exhibit. The thoughtful works by these two photographers provide a glimpse of our recent past and challenges visitors to reflect on what makes history.”

The main gallery features the Holman Johnson photographs that span nearly 40 years in Troy and Pike County.

Johnson opened his photography business in Troy in 1946 and continued to capture moments in time until his death in 1990.

“Photographs are art,” said Mack Gibson, Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center board chair

“Holman Johnson’s photographs are what we grew up with. They are so true to life that you want to walk over and talk to these people. These photographs bring back so many memories that you feel like you are back in time.”

The photography of Hightower is featured in the lower level gallery and is more focused on the agrarian culture of the times.

Hightower was Jerry Vinson’s great uncle by marriage and he remembers the photographer as “a man of the land.”

“Uncle Draffus grew up on a farm and his family owned an automobile dealership but they were not affluent,” Vinson said. “Photography was his hobby. His darkroom was a small kitchen pantry.

“He photographed mainly rural scenes but he did a lot of weddings and things like that and mostly gratis.”

Hightower photographed the people, places and events he thought would otherwise be lost to future generations.

And, from Johnson’s work, Metzger said it is obvious that he, too, had a deep sense of people and place.

When “Looking Through the Lens” comes down in November, it will go on the road as the “‘Walkin’ Wendell Mitchell History Exhibition.”

Mitchell was responsible for securing much of the funding for the exhibition and it was his request that the exhibition be made available to other communities.

The exhibition will be housed at the Johnson Center and be loaned to other communities beginning with Clayton.

“Interest has been expressed from towns as near as Opp and as far as Tuscumbia,” Metzger said.

“Plans are to make the exhibition available to Luverne, Enterprise, Greenville and Old Alabama Town in Montgomery, to name a few.

“These photographs capture lifestyles not uncommon in a lot of rural areas of the United States as a whole and they open discussion among old and young.

“While the images are of lower Alabama and, particularly these two counties, they transcend boundaries in such a way that people in Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi would have the same positive reaction as our guests at the Johnson Center on Sunday.”