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22 Years Ago These Photos Were On The Cutting Room Floor, Today I Think They’re Great


22 Years Ago These Photos Were On The Cutting Room Floor, Today I Think They’re Great

Why These Photos I Took in 1996 Look Better In 2018

It's amazing what time can do to ordinary photos

The old grain elevators in Union Grove, Illinois. With the sun coming from behind these elevators and the heat and humidity creating a very muggy hazy sky, this photo never even made a rough cut for my final project. Looking back on the set of images now I see a treasure trove of a place no longer standing and the two little boys who came over to see what I was doing. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

In June of 1996 I was between my sophomore & junior year taking a summer class in color photography at Columbia College in downtown Chicago and I was spending my free time working on my final project by driving all over the rural Midwest photographing mostly older farms & buildings. Considering everything you did then was on film and scanning to digital was rare, with images being judged on being perfect in color, subject matter, and composition I have very few of the over 100 rolls of 35mm film scanned in. So recently I’ve started going through those old rolls and scanning in basically every frame that was in focus and properly exposed, and what I’ve found has been nothing short of a treasure trove.

There’s a overpass above the train tracks that go through Union Grove, Illinois, without this view I might have missed this place. After taking these I turned around and went back to get some closer shots.
Union Grove, Illinois, from the overpass, circa June 1996.

The funny thing about taking photos is you never know when a photo’s subject matter will take on a whole knew meaning in the future. Going back to the 1990s I’m reminded of Dirck Halstead’s photo of Monica Lewinsky hugging then President Bill Clinton at a fundraiser. This photo basically hit the editing room floor as well till the story of their affair broke and every photojournalist started digging through their old negatives.  While these photos of Union Grove, Hinkley, and Morrison, Illinois aren’t going to be quite as historic, the fact that they captured people & places that have changed, or disappeared makes them much more interesting to look at despite the fact they were pretty plain photos when taken.

Two friends riding bikes in Union Grove, Illinois, June 1996.
A grain elevator in Union Grove, Illinois, June 1996. Satellite images show that show by 2005 this building was no longer standing.
In 22 years I rarely have photographed people, this curious boy & his friend in Union Grove are some of the few.

As a photographer I know that simple photos of a street, place, or people will eventually overtime become a more compelling image. The best part about taken these on film is you aren’t tempted to just delete them while they are new and something you can make again real easily. With digital photography I’ve found myself taking more photos like this knowing in 20 years their power will be more pronounced.

Traffic slows down on U.S. Route 30 as a farmer drives his tractor through Hinkley, Illinois, June 1996.
Cherry Street, Morrison, Illinois, June 1996.
Donna’s Corner Tap, Morrison, Illinois, June 1996.
A day or two before the photos above were taken I was 13 stories above the streets of downtown Chicago, the view from here has changed as well. Looking at the negative sheets “Lost Americana” wasn’t even a thought, I labeled all these photos as part of my “Farmland” series.  June 1996.

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