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Clouds and Lake Michigan. 2014. Canon 5D III. Click to order a print. Next Workshop Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 11-14, 2014.


Welcome to the September 2014 Edition of the Photography Newsletter.

Just watched the new PBS American Masters special on Dorothea Lange. Her photographs, life and words continue to be a deep inspiration to me.

This month's View From Here column highlights the new PBS American Masters feature on Dorothea Lange and some of what she means to me. We hope you find the column interesting and will consider sending us some comments. Our Tutorial Section goes through removing dust spots from very dusty photographs with real image data.



Dawn South Shore. Mono Lake. 2013.

Scholarships and Mentoring

As part of our ongoing commitment to photographic education, there is one student scholarship spot in many of our classes. Please pass the word along.

For discounted time studying with Steve, keep in mind our Mentoring Program.

With all of our busy schedules and limited budgets, destination workshops or classes become a challenge, but many of you still have questions you need answered, or feedback on some new work. We want to remind you of our Virtual Online Consulting Program. This service allows all of you out there around the globe to consult online live with Steve on technical, aesthetic and workflow issues using Skype and your webcam.

Our Essays and Tutorials from the past couple of years can now be found on Google Blogger.

We hope you can come by the gallery and see the new Panoramic Prints we've added to the National Parks Gallery, and the Exquisite Earth exhibition with its accompanying very special Exquisite Earth Portfolio 1. We invite you to join us on a workshop, rent lab space, or just say hello and let us know what you are up to photographically and what you might like to see us offer. We value your input.


Workshop Testimonials

FEATURED PRINT September 2014


Pigeon Point Light Tower. 2014
Canon 5D III

Pigeon Point Light Tower. 2014.
Canon 5D Mark III

9x14 Pigment Inkjet Print on Cotton paper
$195 each. Purchase this print.

The lights swinging through a foggy evening produced the most beautiful and bizarre patterns for our eyes, and stranger still caught by the camera's shutter.

2014 Workshop Schedule
Southwest Journey September 7-18, 2014
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on September 27-30, 2014 (now full)
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra October 11-14, 2014
Fine Art Digital Printing Hands-on November 15-18, 2014
Pt. Lobos and Carmel December 6-8, 2014
Death Valley in Winter January 10-13, 2015


March 2014 Printing Class. Photo by Fiona McDonnell

Speaking Events (see below)

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Rock Layers. Pigeon Point. 2014


New Photo Link

Rocks. Pigeon Point. 2014.
Canon 5D Mark III

Layered Rock walls along the beach just north of Pigeon Point Lighthouse.


Dorothea Lange. 1964.
from the American Masters profile.

by Stephen Johnson

Dorothea Lange
Powerful Photographs, A Deep Influence

American Masters Documentary

On Friday night, August 29, PBS premiered a new American Masters program, a wonderful two hour piece on the great American photographer Dorothea Lange.

As Dorothea was one the most influential photographers on my career, I thought I would share some thoughts on her influence and ideas.

At first glance at my work, and Dorothea's, her influence might not be so apparent. It is easier to see the influences on my work by others like Eliot Porter or Ansel Adams. But Dorothea's work had a profound influence on my work, my commitment to seeing, the telling of photographic truth and making a difference with my photography.

Like most of us, I first saw her photography in connection with her work with the FSA (Farm Security Administration) documentation of rural America in the late 1930s. Her image of 26 year old Florence Thompson in 1937, commonly known as the Migrant Mother photograph, is perhaps the greatest portrait ever made.


migrant mother

Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange. 1937.

It was in college at San Francisco State University that I first saw the documentary films Under the Trees and The Closer for Me that KQED Public Television produced on Dorothea in 1965 just prior to her death. I was deeply moved by her words, intentions, and most profoundly her photographs. I was also quite impressed at how she had chosen to live her life so committed to photography.

I also had a wonderful opportunity to meet one of the filmmakers, Robert Katz when he visited the SFSU campus and showed some out takes from the films. Robert was kind enough to invite me to a showing of those out takes for the family at the Paul Taylor Dorothea Lange home in Berkeley. Paul, some of children, and grandchildren were in attendance. There were some important passages in these out takes and I tried to help Bob get some funding to piece together the out takes into a third film. I was not able to get anyone onboard.


Ditched, Stalled and Stranded. 1935.
Dorothea Lange.

There are many moments in the films where her words moved me and resonated with my own instincts.

The camera is a powerful instrument for saying to the world this is the way it is, look at it! Look at it!

This goes back to what I've been saying about veracity in photography for years, that it is a reality depiction tool of incredible power, and to routinely distort, rework, and fake our way through our images misses one of the fundamental strengths that is photography. Look at the wonder of what is real!



Toward Los Angeles, CA 1937.
Dorothea Lange

I used many of Dorothea's photographs in my "Great Central Valley: California's Heartland" book. It was a real adventure in 1984 going to the Library of Congress in Washington DC and pouring through file cabinets of work. I still have the photocopies of the numerous photographs that seemed compelling, far too many for the book I was doing at the time. Browsing now on the Library of Congress website is an amazing difference, and I'm finding so many images I never found in my earlier searches.



A Very Blue Eagle. Along California Highway. 1936.
Dorothea Lange


...continued top of right column

dorothea 1936

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California. February 1936.

Dorothea was a small woman, who she said was able to disappear, not be obvious even with a camera in her hand. However, the stories she gathered came from talking to to people, asking for their stories, telling a bit of her own. She had no intention of taking from her subject, but of giving something profound, attention to their stories. Apparently that intention came through again and again.


Gas Station. Kern County, California. 1938.
Dorothea Lange.


Dorothea was one of the influences on me that made photography possible as a life's work choice. My early teenage years were ripe with a moral impulse to make a difference while I'm here, alive on this planet. With the war in Vietnam, political assassinations, global strife, looming environmental disasters and the threat of nuclear war, the dawning of my political awareness necessitated shaping a life that acted on those concerns. At first that seemed like law, government, politics or something along those lines. But those processes seemed so ripe with conflict, corruption and ambiguous progress.

The arts and photography were just one of many areas I wanted to explore, and it was a newfound knowledge of Ansel Adam's environmental work, and Dorothea's social work that led me to believe I could shape a path through life making art, and make a difference at the same time.

I didn't know anything of Ansel's and Dorothea's friendship, but it seems there is some interesting history there. My curiosity got perked in a clip of Dorothea referring to artists and documentary photographers:

Many artist photographers alliance with the world is very slight. Their alliance is to themselves. and their effort is to translate the outside world in terms of their needs

This seemed like it might have been a criticism of photographers engaged in landscape or other purely artistic photographic efforts. I thought it might have been referring to Ansel Adams as Cartier-Bresson once did:

The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!

Of course Ansel had been working for decades on the preservation of the wilderness he was portraying, as so many photographers I know also have. We seek ways to give back, to make a difference. It has become second nature for me to tell a photographic truth (not a Photoshop enhancement) about this earth, and use that very truth to foster an appreciation of the real and magical world we live in. That world needs allies in the struggle to preserve it, we need greater connection with this earth to live as healthy natives to this planet.

Riding somewhere in the middle of all of this was a line that touched me long before photography did, from folk singer Phil Ochs in the liner notes of his Pleasures of the Harbor album:

“In such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty.”
               Phil Ochs, liner notes
               Pleasures of the Harbor, 1968

I then learned that Ansel and Dorothea had been friends for decades. She had been well acquainted with the Group f/64, had talked Ansel into more than one joint project, and in the 1950s he hired her to teach at the California School of Fine Arts (later becoming the San Francisco Art Institute).

Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams made me aware that photography could make a difference. They made me believe I could make a difference.

cotton picker

Migratory field worker picking cotton in San Joaquin Valley, California. 1938
Dorothea Lange.

An empathy with the downtrodden and struggles of the Depression impressed me early on with Dorothea's work. My own family migrated from Oklahoma to California in the early 1930s, and her work always touched me as being symbolically a portrait of my own kin. Just as John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath almost could have been my own family story. The fact that so many of her photographs were made in my homeland of the Great Central Valley, also brought her story home to me.

Personal connections with our heroes are often imagined, but I was touched on hearing Dorothea's son Daniel recount his mother and Paul Taylor's moment of truth together while walking through a field of wildflowers in my homeland of California's Central Valley:

Down in the Central Valley, springtime, knee-deep in poppies and lupines, they stopped the car, they walked out into the wildflowers, and they looked at each other, that look told that they were going to spend their lives together.                    
             -Daniel Dixon in the video "A Visual Life"


Bean thresher. Mechanized agriculture between Turlock and Merced, California. 1936.
Dorothea Lange


Over these last few days since the American Master broadcast, I've gone back through the video collection I have, again browsed the Library of Congress collections, revisited some old memories and experiences associated with Dorothea Lange and inspired by her. It has been a good journey. I've learned many things I did not know, and my feeling of kinship for this remarkable woman has only grown deeper.


A few Dorothea Lange Links:

"Grab a Hunk of Lightning" companion book the American Masters program. Bay Area local source Oakland Museum Store.

Library of Congress website

AUDIO IN|SIGHT: Dorothea Lange with Deborah Klochko

Dorothea Lange film: A Visual Life

Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life excerpt

Ansel Adams Portraits of Dorothea

Our Stakes in the Japanese Exodus

Life Magazine Sept 1954. Three Mormon Towns by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Daniel Dixon. Exhibition of Dorothea's Photos from the Project.


please email your comments to us



Consulting Programs and Speaking Events

Virtual Education: Our Virtual Consulting and Mentoring Program is working well. Readers of this Newsletter can still get a discount by mentioning this reference when you enroll.

Our One on One Program links you up with Steve at his bay area studio, or when he is on the road near you. Keep an eye on when Steve will be near your town.

Catch Steve Live: Steve will be speaking here and there over the next  few months, such as his up coming talks in New York City at PhotoPlus.

  • Pacifica: At the Gallery
    Come by and talk with Steve about his ongoing Exhibitions of work on display

Canon Sponsors Steve to speak at Universities, Colleges, Photo Groups and various events around the country. If you would like more information on arranging for Steve to do a Canon sponsored event, go to: Canon SJ EOL talks

A New Book

Looking at Images arrived from Brooks Jensen and it is a handsome book. 250 pages of photographs from Brooks' LensWork journals highlighting some very nice photographs with commentary. The book is very well printed and includes audio commentary through Q codes which take the reader another step closer to the author's reactions.

Very nicely done. I suggest you pick it up.


Steve Lecturing at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography. June 2012.


Removing Lots of Dust


A Tutorial for quickly removing lots of dust from an image with real image data.

I hope it is helpful to you and help bring back to life old or troubled photographs.


From my June 2014 Fine Art Digital Printing Class.




Previous Tutorial and Technique Posts

The Stephen Johnson Photography Gift Shop

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2014 Life Form Note cards
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12 image Note card set with envelopes featuring photographs from Steve's new Life Form work.

Printed by Steve in his studio in very limited numbers on a color laser digital press


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note card

National Park Color Note card Set
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12 cards/envelopes $20 set

From "With a New Eye" Beautiful 300 line screen offset reproductions with envelopes in clear box. A great gift.




or call to order 650 355-7507



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Stephen Johnson Photography at the Pacifica Center for the Arts
1220-C Linda Mar Boulevard, Creekside Suites, 5-7
Pacifica, CA 94044 650 355-7507

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Last updated on September 5, 2014 . Mail comments to:
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