While on an assignment, Tom M Johnson was photographing the parking lots of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District with a 35mm DSLR. A recent transplant from Los Angeles, he was drawn to the little structures that shelter people who work at the lots, but didn’t like the format he was shooting. “This was a photograph meant to be made square,” he tells PDN by email, “so the following evening I returned to the same location with my Hasselblad C/M and photographed a different attendant in the same booth.” It was the beginning of his series “Booths,” in which the huts themselves are characters, scrappy and leaning off their foundations or cracked and crumbling with age. One exception is the booth at the Andy Warhol Museum, painted like the artist’s famous Brillo boxes. Inside it, an attendant holds a pile of cash.
Johnson only photographs booths occupied by their attendants, but says the structures themselves are the stars—the “attendants have second billing.” Part of the challenge is getting them on board. While he says “90 percent of the attendants I asked agreed to be a part of ‘Booths,’” some oblige him but wonder “why I would have any interest in photographing [their booth].” Others are more stubborn—there are “attendants who believe nothing good will come from them being a participant…, and believe their faces would end up in a compromised position on some less than savory website.”
Johnson says that as a transplant to Pittsburgh, he may see the booths differently than longtime residents. To him, they are “animate objects with a character shaped by years of harsh climate and the wear of multiple tenants.” He tells PDN, “Coming from a Southern California suburb where parking lot booths do not exist, I was drawn to these little houses in the middle of parking lots. And where most Pittsburghers view these booths solely as structures that house people who charge them too much to park, I find them to be visual jewels.”