Johnny Crawford is a photographer, but that's not what he always wanted to be -- until age 15 when his grandfather, the man that raised him, died and his photo appeared in the local newspaper.
"When his picture appeared in the newspaper, it was only two dots where his eyes were supposed to be and a row of teeth," Crawford tells WSB’s Michelle Wright, adding that right after, he rode his bike three miles to speak with the paper’s editor.
"I asked the editor, ‘why did my grandfather look this bad?’ And, ‘why did the white guy on the other page look better?’ And truth of the matter, the white guy on the other page didn't look any better, you could just tell he was a man," Crawford explains.
And that's when Crawford got bit by the photography bug. Fast-forward a ‘few years’ and after a career working at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Crawford is struck with an idea -- telling the stories of black Vietnam veterans through photos: "And so I said, 'you know what? These guys haven't been recognized.' So it was simply that."
Now, Crawford says he is on a mission to photograph the men and women who served in all branches of the military during that time.
There are exhibits at the Riverdale City Hall and the Powder Springs Community Development Center, which is where WSB’s Michelle Wright met Crawford and encountered these exquisite black-and-white photos stretched on 30-by-40-inch canvases lining the hall.
>>LISTEN TO MICHELLE WRIGHT’S FULL INTERVIEW WITH CRAWFORD BELOW.
When asked whether it was a conscious move to put it in black-and-white, Crawford responds, "I decided to put it in black and white for two reasons. One, is it stands out. Everything is in color now. The second reason is that it goes back to the portrait of my grandfather. And so, I look at it as a way to honor my grandfather."
And when asked if he has any favorites, Crawford points out a few, highlighting Reverend Charles H. Hightower.
"As I start talking to him and asking him questions, he closed his eyes and start praying,” Crawford recalls, adding, “He has some pretty vivid memories. People always say, ‘why are his eyes closed?’ His eyes are closed because he's praying. He has to do that to get through the day."
Also of note, Crawford’s ‘labor of love’ is entirely self funded.