" Who Is John Walker"
The images in this gallery are quite special. All were shot by John Walker between 1929 and 1933 and they are all from the original 35mm negatives that were uncut and stored in canisters. You can read about the canisters here. Walker and my late grandmother traveled and worked together from sometime in 1931 to Walker's death in 1933. These negatives came to me through her. The family story is that he was a retired banker from Toronto, Canada living in Pasadena, California at the time. He was not a professional photographer, but he clearly had a photographer's eye.
He recorded a multitude of things. Southeastern California and Arizona landscapes, old towns, ghost towns, desert dwellings, ships, airplanes, people, road signs in the middle of nowhere, the famous Monterey Cypress when it still looked healthy, Tombstone, Arizona not too many years after Wyatt Earp holstered his gun at OK Corral. And then there were his traveling machines and the fearless approach he and his companions in the earliest photos in the collection took to driving in some very rugged places.
This gallery is photographic, artistic, historic, interesting and just plain fun. The images are the culmination of a three year effort it took me to rehabilitate the approximately 1500 negatives, scan and catalog them in order to bring them to life here.
As Walker has been gone for over 80 years, the following commentary on his work as something of an artist's statement is pure conjecture on my part. I can't explain what motivated him in his photography, so I won't try. But since I've now worked with these images for several years I have some observations that I think are worthy of pointing out.
I see four themes. He wasn't a professional photographer nor, apparently, an artist in some other medium. But there is so much deliberate composing in so many of these photos that I believe he clearly had a natural sense about it. The samples below are good examples.
He definitely had a sense of humor. The shutter might have been snapped by one of his companions, but I would say he clearly was the director in these examples.
Walker The Cut Up!
Walker The Cut Up!
Photos taken in a documentary style that are simple recordings of something that caught his eye.
Walker The Documentary Photographer
One detail of many of his "big view" landscape photos that is especially nice is the addition of people. I strongly believe he did this on purpose to help provide a sense of scale to many landscape scenes, especially those of expansive views. The added people generally were not in the foreground with a pretty scene behind as a typical snapshot composition might be. The people more often were placed in the mid-ground or beyond. Here are some great examples. The person in the center photo is barely visible on top of the cliff in the background.
Examples of Scale
So you can draw your own conclusions as to what was going through his head in making these photos. Regardless, he was unquestionably talented, and I feel very privileged to be able to work with these images and make them public after so many years of seclusion.