Tom M. Johnson
Sometimes, when you grow up in a small town, you have to leave and come back to really see it and appreciate it. Tom M. Johnson is about to open a show that celebrates the city of Lakewood, a suburb near Long Beach, California that was his childhood home. He has returned to live in Lakewood after an international life and shares his appreciation for the nuances and unremarkable events of small town life in this exhibition. Lakewood opens on July 10th (with an artist reception on the 17th, 5-9pm) through the Phantom Galleries LA, at 320 East 3rd Street, Long Beach, CA.
Over the past few years I have been photographing my suburb–a modest enclave in the southeast section of Los Angeles County. Lakewood was developed after World War II for the many returning veterans and their families looking for a new beginning. The founders of Lakewood designated their suburb “Tomorrow’s City Today,” because it was both modern and unique in its conception. Lakewood offered a utopia for the post war middle-class: affordable housing, new schools and parks, and good jobs in the aerospace-defense industry. The ups and downs of Southern California’s economy and immigration squeezed the middle-class, yet Lakewood adapted and endured and the values of the folks who now live here are not that dissimilar to those who came to Lakewood during its genesis.
I was raised in Lakewood; however, it wasn’t until I walked the streets and talked to my neighbors that I was able to comprehend what makes my suburb unique. It’s a combination of the make-up of the people and the closeness of their homes. Go to poorer neighborhoods and you will find houses guarded by locked fences and gated windows. Go to upper class neighborhoods and you will see these homes are buffered by beautiful yet unwelcoming landscape. The residents of Lakewood having less to fear and lose are generally more open and neighborly, and their values, worth, character, interests and personalities are often reflected in how they decorate and maintain the front of their homes.
I search for provocative portraits and relics of Lakewood’s middle class. I come upon kids riding their bikes whose parents are watchful of strangers but not threatened by them, women tending their yards, and men tinkering inside their garages. I interact with these folks, many whom I share similar concerns and interests. They question why I am taking pictures or if I work for a newspaper. When I tell them my pursuit is only artistic many shake their heads. But for every one who is uncomfortable with my presence, there are those who welcome me to photograph them and their front yards.
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