It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon in Adams Morgan, and at the Tryst coffeehouse, every available bar stool, lounge chair, and sofa is taken. Strings of conversation whip past each other like trucks on a highway, offering a collage of sound above the background music of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Those not talking loudly are keeping to themselves, reading or writing.
In this environment, it takes something pretty remarkable to get a little attention. So it’s not altogether surprising that people occasionally glance up from their drinks to study Geoff Johnson’s photos hanging on the walls: How often do you see a photo of a naked woman standing at the Lincoln Memorial?
Johnson (who is the Washington City Paper’s assistant art director) has 11 prints on display at Trystall black-and-white photographs of the same nude woman posing in broad daylight at some of Washington’s most recognizable places: the Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR Memorials, as well as Hains Point and Malcolm X Park.
“I’ve had this idea in my head for years,” says Johnson, 30, who first became interested in photography while attending high school in Manassas, Va. “I grew up looking at these monuments. Every time a friend comes into town, you have to take them there. This is intended to spice them up a little.”
So on two mornings in mid-May, Johnson’s longtime girlfriend, Leslie Geer, posed for the photos while two friends acted as lookouts. Still, the group attracted some strange stares from tourists who got to the monuments earlyparticularly at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
At Hains Point, a bike rider did a double take after seeing Geerand narrowly avoided a collision. The four had no trouble with the law, except at the Jefferson Memorial, where one of the lookouts spotted a Park Police officer approaching. Geer quickly grabbed her clothes, but the cop trudged over to the group anyway.
“I thought we were busted,” Johnson says. Instead, the officer told one of the lookouts, who was holding a cigarette, that he wasn’t allowed to smoke at the memorial and then walked off.
“It was fun,” says Geer. “I was a little hesitant at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I got excited.”
All the images are strikingparticularly a shot at The Awakening at Hains Point, in which Johnson placed Geer in one of the sculpture’s giant hands. At the FDR Memorial, Johnson captured Geer with an arm intimately draped around the Eleanor Roosevelt statue.
Johnson says that although he knew which monuments he wanted to include and had a rough idea of the makeup of each shot, he arranged the specifics on the spot.
“I like the spontaneity of photography,” Johnson says. “It seems so immediate. It forces people to deal with it.” The photos, he says, depict an affecting combination: the texture of flesh and the surface of stone. For that reason, among others, Johnson says, the images can stand on their own, even for people who have never been to D.C.
“They have special meaning for a hometown audience,” he adds. “The images may be familiar, but they’ve never seen [them] quite this way.” Dave Mann
Geoff Johnson’s photos, along with Adriane Shown Harjo’s collages, will be on display at Tryst until Monday, July 2. There will be a closing party from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, July 1.