About Des Johnston


Bank Facade

Bank Facade, Dannevirke

I am not a historian in the professional sense of the word, but have read and been fascinated by history for a lifetime. I have taught history in my early days as a teacher, joining my pupils in often finding it somewhat unrewarding with monarchs, battles, dates, Acts of Parliament, treaties, ad infinitum.

On retirement from my subsequent career I began to act as a tutor in history to adults, without the constraints of examinations and of a syllabus. This proved so rewarding that I have decided to share my ideas and concepts of history through the Net.

I believe that history is first and foremost about people. If “life is what happens to you when you are trying to get on with something else”, then the definition of history is practically the same! Over the last 10,000 years and more the human mind has remained virtually unchanged, so it is not surprising that “history repeats itself”. What we are looking at is the reaction of humans to the world around them — to the machinations of their fellow humans, to climatic and geographical features of their personal environment, to the history embodied in their ancestral links. Since people have remained essentially the same over millennia, their reactions and attitudes to the circumstances of their lives are the same as ours are  today. No wonder then that history repeats itself.

There is a belief that something like a leaf falling at one end of the world can affect life in the opposite end. It is this “domino effect” which makes history fascinating. Too often history is studied in isolated and unrelated segments — British, American, Australasian, Roman, Greek, neolithic, modern, mediaeval, ancient. Yet these are all part of the same thing — a continuous process with everything linked together through time and space. Just to give one example, it has been said that when the Chinese established a powerful nation a couple of thousand years ago and created their “Great Wall” to curtail nomadic incursions from their frontiers the nomads in question turned their attention westwards, creating the pressure waves which eventually engulfed the Roman Empire thousands of miles away!

This is just one example of the sort of line which we will be exploring from week to week on this blog. My interests range from the beginning of recognisable civilisation as the last ice age ended some 10,000 years ago to the present. History is a chain. In the words on the cover of the magazine History Today “WHAT HAPPENED THEN MATTERS NOW”. Topics will not be in chronological order, but will range from prehistory to the present. Sometimes a specific period will go under the microscope. At other times the topic will be much more general. Politics, human psychology, religious beliefs, philosophy, commerce, industry, trade, civilisation, culture, literature, geography, climate will all emerge as factors in the life of our fellow humans over the past 10,000 years. Topics coming up will include the origins and meaning of civilisation, relating cultures past and present to one another. We will consider the needs, while reading history, to “get out of the armchair” and into the mind of the historical figure or people who are being observed. In looking at a situation in history the question – “what would I have done if I were in that position?”- is paramount.

Quite often the ideas and opinions I express may be out of line with accepted concepts. For that I make no apology – I see little value in slavishly trotting out ideas without question from time to time.


French still-life

French still-life

Just as I do not claim to be a “historian” so I do not claim to be “photographer” in the professional sense of the word. But for many years I have been enjoying photography immensely. My dedication is to the field of black and white photography, with its emphasis on shapes, textures, form, light and shade. Also I have a firm belief in not just “taking” but also “making” photographs, especially in the darkroom. The wear and tear of the years on the eyes has so made me move from manual to auto-focus and from darkroom printing to using scanner and printer via the computer. But I still retain some control by using film and developing it in chemicals.

The photos shown are not meant to be masterpieces. They may have faults, but they’ve made me happy and made me want to share them “warts and all”. Unless by chance, they will not be intended to have a historical context — they are purely for enjoyment. Usually a few explanatory comments will accompany each one

I look forward to hearing your comments on both aspects of this blog.

Desmond Johnston



  1. Pingback: Members’ Exhibition Tomorrow – 13 August « KCPS
  2. enmanscamera

    It’s great to be in contact. I wandered by your blog while looking for another…However, I am glad I did. I look forward to your comments on history and enjoy your sepia toned images.

  3. Dr.V.Sridhar

    Interesting History about Desmond Jonston. Thanks for going through one of my blog articles and even finding time to give a feedback in turn making me curious to know about you….and I am glad I hit a great web site,making me revive my long forgotten knowledge of ‘History’.Thanks again.

  4. belshade

    Thank you for following my blog. I hope you will enjoy the mixture of photography and of history, ancient and modern. I have enjoyed your photos and articles. I have never been to India (yet) but your choice of scenes makes up for that. India teems with people. The countries where I have photographed most – Ireland, New Zealand, France, are also well-peopled, but in my photographs they are deserted! I am interested in people but have never been a “people photographer”. It is the built and natural environment which makes them that I seem to concentrate on. Des.

  5. Desmond Johnston

    Hi Akwelle,
    Thank you for following my blog, and for your much-appreciated comments. Photography is a fascinating medium – you have to be “in the right place at the right time” and also be able to cotton on to the fact that the possibility is there in front of you. I like your distinctive style and look forward to seeing more of your work. Des.

  6. marine_observer

    Such a lovely introduction, delighted to know about you 🙂 you have a wonderful collection of photographs although not being a professional photographer you definitely posses the skills and of a historian too !!

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