We’ve all seen Lost Americana somewhere in our lives; it’s a vintage automobile, or an old vending machine. Stainless steel playground slides, a neon sign, or decorative wood work in old houses.
It could very easily be called nostalgia, but you know it’s so much more.
Lost Americana is a look at the one place we can never return to. The past. For this documentary specifically, the agricultural communities of rural America.
America started out with 90% of its population working on farms, but is now a society so far removed from farming they’ve hardly noticed the number of farmers declined so much late last century, it’s as if New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were abandoned.
For me, Lost Americana is not about trying to preserve a way of life, fight against corporate farming, or save historical buildings. It’s a look at who & what has been left behind in what could be the the World’s largest Exodus in history.
Lost Americana is a record of a fading bit of American history, before the land that helped build it, reclaims the buildings and people who once made it great.
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Vincent David Johnson is an American photographer & filmmaker who lives in Chicago, Illinois.
A graduate of Columbia College’s highly reguarded photojournalism program. He studied under Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist John H. White. Johnson is regularly hired on assignment for different news outlets and his images and writing have appeared numerous times in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and many regional and national publications. His film making career started in 2008 and primarily has been short documentaries for non-profits & news publications.
Johnson grew up in Joliet, Illinois during the 1980s & 90s. A city on the edge of the urban-rural divide separating the Chicago metro area from the rest of the state. It was there that he began photographing abandoned barns and what would end up becoming Lost Americana and a deeper look at population decline in rural America.
His love for Americana extends past farms to high school football and the restoration of the a vintage 1898 row house he & his family live in, but he will admit he prefers pumpkin over apple pie.
It may come as no surprise that he’s also his family’s historian and has spent countless hours scanning and cataloging old family photos & 8mm film.
He is married with two sons.
You can always find out more about him and Lost Americana by following the blog.
What started out with a used 35mm SLR camera in a photography class at Joliet Junior College, and a handful of black & white photos of an old barn, has morphed into a body of work spanning parts of three decades.
Lost Americana had simple origins. An art project of colorful rural landscapes juxtaposed with abandoned barns. A subject matter I was drawn to even after turning in my final project and graduating from art school. However, as I kept traveling farther out past Chicago’s suburban areas, I noticed that barns weren’t just being abandoned to make way for suburban sprawl, farmsteads way past populations centers were left vacant and decaying at an alarming rate.
Since then I have been traveling across the continental U.S., documenting in still photography, and more recently in video, the decaying structures of what was once a vibrant rural America.
With thousands of digital images, over 100 rolls of 35mm film, and another 100 plus sheets of 4×5 film, from across 24 states, it’s only logical that at some point there would be a book. A layout and design are in progress and information about how to purchase one will be on this web site by early 2019.
The still image offers an amazing way to capture moments in time, but the story of Lost Americana goes way beyond photos. So in 2008 I started doing research on what had happened to rural America over the last 50 years and to reach out to people who have spent their lives in these communities.
In 2013 I realized the conversations I was having while driving across America, could only truly be told in one way, a documentary film.
Since the beginning the goal was always to capture photos in a way that was as big as the American landscape itself. Then and now that means large format photography, in the form of a 4×5 camera.
“Four by five” refers to the size of the film used to make a single image. Each photo is made on a 4 by 5 inches sheet of film, about the size of an average hand (see photo at left).
I find it fitting that in the digital age I’m still documenting Lost Americana on film, using a 50 year old camera, and techniques that haven’t changed since the 1800s. When making these images I’m still throwing a blanket over my head while composing the frame.
I do shoot digital, but prefer the 4×5 film camera. Besides making me really focus and take my time on just one photo, the file size & quality is still much better than any digital 35mm equivalent out there. To put things in perspective, my largest digital photo file is about 30 megabytes. Where a digital scan of a 4×5 photo is coming in around 2 to 3 gigabytes in size.
Another added bonus is, with the required setup time of the 4×5, I’ve found I stick around a location longer, which has led to better photos, as well as conversations with curious passersby.