My photographs of Monroe elected officials hang on the wall of the Monroe City Council chamber in City Hall. I was afforded the opportunity to shoot these during my tenure as a contract photographer with the City of Monroe from 2008-2012.
There are only a few photographers who have had the honor of capturing the images of elected officials. In Monroe, these photographs are framed and remain on the wall of the council chamber indefinitely. There are black and white photographs that date back to the early 20th century, many taken by the same photographer.
Two photographers in Monroe’s history have notable work featured in the council chamber….Durwood Griffin and Leonard Johnson.
Thomas Durwood Griffin was born the same year his father James Everett Griffin opened Griffin’s Photography Studio in Monroe, in 1914. The shop was located at 318 DeSiard Street. His father died in 1932, the year of the Great Ouachita River Flood. Many of the photographs taken by the Griffins during the flood are archived by the University Of Louisiana at Monroe. The studio celebrated it’s 20th year anniversary in 1934 during the middle of the Great Depression. Durwood would later become a Master Photographer and President of the Professional Photographers of Louisiana from 1965-1966. He is the only photographer from Monroe to hold the position. In 1973, he was the national award recipient of the Professional Photographers of America. Durwood died in 1999.
The Griffin family contributed a number of photographs that are displayed in the council chamber including: Councilmen: Will Atkinson, D.A. Breard, Frank Cline, John P. Simmons, Luther Harper, Harlan Prestridge, Milton Moore, Tyson Bordelon, Charles Johnson, Gene Tarver, and Benny Ausberry. Monroe Mayors Ralph Troy and Robert Powell also sat for photographs with Griffin’s Studio.
Mr. Leonard Johnson was well known in Monroe. I never met the man but I knew of him by his work and the reputation it gained for him. He actually took a portrait of my grandfather, Roosevelt Wright, Sr. My grandfather was attracted to the status symbol that came from having a Johnson photo. If you wanted to feel important, you took a photo with Johnson, for people knew if you took a photo with him, you paid a great sum of money for it. Johnson, who operated his shop on Washington Street, had a window in the front of the building. His select photographs would be displayed in the main window, which would become a talking piece for people in the community.
Johnson was born in 1925 to Mary and Lloyd Johnson of Simsboro, Louisiana. He was one of 13 children. He attended college at Grambling State University where he learned the art of photography. He played an active role in the Monroe community through civic and pastoral service, and was a business trailblazer as a photographer. In the mid 20th century, he founded Johnson Photography Studio, operating it for more than six decades. He leaves behind a long legacy of images and memories for thousands with school, portrait, and wedding photography clients for which he served. He operated throughout Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and east Texas, winning awards from industry associations. Johnson died in 2015.
Johnson took several photographs that are displayed in the council chamber including Councilmen: James E. Mayo, Authur Gilmore, Robert E. Stevens, Robert Johnson and John Smith. He also took photographs of Mayors: Abe. E. Pierce, III, Melvin Rambin, and James E. Mayo.
There should probably be a permanent room at the Louisiana Delta African-American Heritage Museum displaying Johnson’s photography, for he photographed so many historical figures in this area in their prime.
When I became the city’s photographer in 2008, I did not know I would have the honor of having my photographs displayed among the greats of the town. That year, the city needed new portraits of the council and mayor for the website. I photographed the entire council including Councilmen: Jay Marx, Ben Katz, Robert E. Stevens, Authur Gilmore, and Robert Johnson. We took these photographs in the chamber on June 10, 2008. None of these were used on the wall, just on the website. However, the photograph of Mayor Mayo was used on city presentations, brochures, and programs at events. It is still used on the digital sign at the Monroe Civic Center.
Later, the Council Clerk needed to get the new council members photographed for wall hanging. I was excited about the opportunity. I photographed Interim Councilpersons: Rueben Oliver, Ellen Hill and Glenda Starr, and Elected councilpersons Eddie Clark and Gretchen Ezernack. Next time you visit City Hall, take a browse in the chamber and look up top on the Council photo side (left side). The top 5 are mine.
What an awesome experience and honor it was to work in that capacity and have my photography on display, knowing that it would still be on display for all that came behind me, for at least the next century, as is that of Durwood Griffin and Leonard Johnson….the great trailblazers of photography in Monroe.