Photographs by John Simmons, ASC on View at the Museum of African American Art

Photographs by John Simmons, ASC are currently on view at the Museum of African American Art in the exhibition “No Crystal Stair: The Photography of John Simmons.”

The exhibition includes 48 black-and-white photographs captured between 1965 and 1973 in locations including Chicago, Nashville and New York City. It includes the photographs ShoesLove on the Bus and Man with a Pistol, which were on display in the ASC Photo Gallery Spring 2017 exhibition. 

John Simmons, ASC outside of his exhibition at the Museum of African American Art.

The exhibition opened on Sunday, November 3, to a large crowd, which included several ASC members. Attendees were also entertained by a trumpet performance by Tex Allen (pictured at the top of the page).

"Shoes" by John Simmons, ASC.
"Shoes" by John Simmons, ASC.
"Girl Eating Ice Cream" by John Simmons, ASC.

Simmons, who co-founded the ASC Vision Committee and has previously served as a Society vice president, grew up in Chicago in the 1960s, where he began his career in journalism. His photographs first appeared in The Chicago Defender, a newspaper founded for African American readers. His mentor was photographer Bobby Sengstacke, and he was also influenced by the works of poet Langston Hughes and photographer Roy DeCarava.

Of Simmons’s work, photographer Andy Romanoff wrote, “Deeply knowledgeable about life in the streets and the currents of unrest then sweeping the black community, Simmons had access to the major players of the day: the Blackstone Rangers, the Nation of Islam, and Angela Davis, among others. He made strong pictures showing their lives, but he also spent his days photographing everyday life on Chicago’s vibrant South Side. His street pictures reveal an America largely unrecorded, quotidian in nature, each image one of lives unseen in the middle of a neighborhood few white photographers ever ventured into.”

"Unite or Perish" by John Simmons, ASC.
"Angela Davis, Nashville, Tennessee" by John Simmons, ASC.

Simmons has had a prolific career as both a still photographer and cinematographer. He has photographed more than 25 television series, including Roseanne (2018), Family Reunion, No Good Nick, Men at Work, Good Luck Charlie, Pair of Kings, All of Us, The Tracy Morgan Show, and many others.

For his work on Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, Simmons earned an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series in 2016. He earned another two Emmy nominations for his work on Pair of Kings in 2011 and 2012. In 2019, he was a key part of the Los Angeles Area Emmy-winning creative team behind the PBS SoCal documentary project Finding Home: A Foster Youth Story, which chronicles the lives of teens preparing to begin new lives outside the foster care system.

Of all the photographs on view, Simmons says that "Christmas Eve," which made its debut in "No Crystal Stair," is his favorite.

The exhibition will be on view through March 29 at the Museum of African American Art, located at 4005 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (inside the Macy’s at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza).

Simmons (in white jacket) with friends and guests at the museum, including cinematographer Hans Charles, camera operator and cinematographer Quenelle Jones, cinematographer Dennis Flippin, cinematographer Michelle Clementine, cinematographer Daniel Patterson, cinematographer Tommy Maddox-Upshaw and cinematographer Yves Wilson.
Simmons (in white jacket) with friends and guests at the museum, including cinematographer Hans Charles, camera operator and cinematographer Quenelle Jones, cinematographer Dennis Flippin, cinematographer Michelle Clementine, cinematographer Daniel Patterson, cinematographer Tommy Maddox-Upshaw and cinematographer Yves Wilson.

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