He’s moved from processing his own film in a dark room to creating dream-like, blurry-edged digital images, but Darrow Montgomery’s muse is, was and will remain his hometown of Washington, D.C.
Now celebrating his 30th anniversary at the Washington City Paper, Montgomery’s relationship with photography began like so many others do: “In high school I had to pick an elective and the girl I was interested in picked photography, so I picked photography too.” With a good-natured chuckle, Montgomery said the relationship went nowhere — with the girl.
“The first roll of film, the magical thing developing under your eyes. That was that,” he said
As a student at the Corcoran School of Art, he needed an internship and, fully enamored with photography by then, Montgomery figured he’d get a gig at the City Paper, which he imagined would look like the newsrooms he saw on TV.
“I went over to it and it was a row house on 6th Street,” he says. “There was no darkroom. There were people sitting in the bedrooms, which were made into offices.” The people in charge at the time gave him a chance and, “next thing I knew I was shooting an assignment and I was shooting a cover story and I was doing it very poorly. I was terrified. I’d bring every camera I had amassed in my young life on assignment with me on a bicycle and a tripod I didn’t use or need, but I figured if I had the tool with me, I could answer the bigger problems.”
Now all he needs is either his smartphone or a camera with a 60mm lens.
Of course, that’s not all that’s changed in his three decades at the paper. The city he loves so much is changing in a hurry.
“The pace of change seems to have accelerated,” Montgomery said. “It’s had sleepy, bombed-out sections from the riots, places you wouldn’t go at night, places that would be dead at night, to a place that I wouldn’t recognize 20 years ago. The sort of population influx, the development the condo on every corner, the whole character has changed. The old 9:30 Club is a J. Crew.”
He points to a self-assigned project looking at Georgia Avenue from the Maryland line to Howard University in D.C. “It’s one of the few corridors that still looks the same as it did 30 years ago. It’s changing in pockets.” To capture the nature of the avenue, he rode buses back and forth on the strip, walked sections of it, drove himself around. “My intent was to make interesting pictures of that corridor. That was maybe three years ago. If I go back to some of those spots today, they’re gone.”
On this week’s It’s All Journalism podcast, host Michael O’Connell talks to Darrow Montgomery about his 30 years as a photographer for the Washington City Paper. Montgomery talks about how his work evolved as the city he covered changed. He tells how he went from film to digital, from black and white to color, and shares some tricks on how to make a piece of food look amazing in print.