For Toronto photographer Richard Johnson, large format digital photography is his way of documenting the structures that shape our cultures and communities, and preserving these places in a rapidly shifting world. The resurgence of root cellars is a mix of nostalgia, tourism opportunities and an uptick in 100-mile diet lifestyles.
For decades, though, cellars have mostly languished in abandonment. Locked in time, they have stood as lone survivors of homesteads that have long since moved on. They’ve outlasted houses, wharfs and the people who built them due to their construction, arguably the most basic architectural scheme imaginable – a process of piling up nearby rocks, then covering the walls in thick layers of peatland bog. In more modern times, concrete was employed.
Their simplicity is what has enabled them to last for over a century, and what makes them such a compelling image of survival. While focused on framing root cellars, Johnson also captured Newfoundland’s rocky terrain, and when he placed one photograph next to the other, the landscape morphed into jagged alignment. This is one reason why it can be hard to distinguish- in Johnson’s work, where the documentarian ends and the artist’s eye begins: two mindsets that are completely and seamlessly baked into the final results.