May 19, 2022 to January 06, 2023

David Johnson: In the Zone (1945-1965)

An exhibition that tells the story of legendary San Francisco photographer, David Johnson

The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) Galleries is pleased to present David Johnson: In the Zone (1945-1965), an exhibition at San Francisco City Hall featuring 65 photographic works on loan from UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

Johnson was born in 1926 in the segregated South near Jacksonville, FL and was the first member of his household to learn to read or write. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he moved to San Francisco to study at the California School of Fine Arts (later renamed the San Francisco Art Institute) in the newly formed Photography Department led by renowned photographer Ansel Adams. Johnson was the first Black artist to graduate during what is now known as the program's "Golden Decade" from 1945 to 1955.

Johnson, 95, is recognized as one of the most important photographers to document the joys and struggles of formative decades in San Francisco's storied history. Johnson focused his camera on day-to-day life, with special emphasis on the Black community in his Fillmore District neighborhood from 1945 into the 1960s, before redevelopment in the 1970s changed the demographic of the community forever. He photographed passersby as well as friends, gathering spots like churches and barbershops, children playing and teens hanging out, dance halls and jazz clubs, and the fight for civil rights. His historic work is particularly resonant today as our city and our country reckons with the legacies of systemic oppression and the contemporary realities of racial injustice and inequity for Black Americans. 

In June 2021, the Harvey Milk Photo Center, part of San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department located at 50 Scott Street, dedicated its new photo library to Johnson. For more information about or to visit the David Johnson Research Library, go to or call 415-554-9522. 

The photographs in this exhibition are all drawn from the David Johnson Photograph Archive, © University of California Regents, at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and printed by Electric Works in San Francisco. 

public artist reception was held on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 from 5:00-7:00 p.m in the North Light Court of City Hall. The event was free and open to the public.

Image credit: David Johnson, Boys and FlagHunter's Point, 1947.

David Johnson, Living Legend and Chronicler of Black SF, Celebrated at New City Hall Exhibit (The San Francisco Standard)

David Johnson: In the Zone (1945-1965) (SF/Arts Monthly)

David Johnson’s exhilarating photographs capture transformative decades in SF (48 Hills)

David Johnson's photos bring the Harlem of the West to life (San Francisco Examiner)

What's Coming Up

Public Meeting

Executive Committee Meeting

December 18
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Hybrid: 401 Van Ness | Rm 125 and Online
Public Meeting

Visual Arts Committee Meeting

December 16
2:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Hybrid: City Hall | Rm 408 and Online
Public Meeting

Civic Design Review Committee Meeting

December 11
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Hybrid: City Hall | Rm 408 and Online
Public Meeting

Community Investments Committee Meeting

December 09
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Hybrid: City Hall | Rm 416 and Online