Hi, I’m Frederick Van Johnson and welcome to my site. If you’re looking for my photo gallery, you’ll find it here.
And since you’re on my “About” page, I assume you’re interested in learning a little more about me. Understand that I’ll be skipping over huge chunks in order to not let this get too long.
Let’s start in the early days. The entrepreneurial spirit struck me early in life. I remember as a little 5 year old kid, sneaking out of the house to ask people for quarters. I was leveraging the fact that I was a cute kid to ask strangers for money.
It “kinda” worked. That is until my mother caught me begging on the sidewalk in front of the house. Let’s just say, she wasn’t really happy with my business model.
Then later, there was the time my big brother and I sold a big mound of dirt to a neighborhood kid. He was 10, I was 8. We had somehow learned about the “Squatters Rights” and “Adverse Possession” laws.
Well, none of the other kids had claimed ownership to that particular dirt mound, so we proclaimed ownership then told another kid “KJ”, if he wanted to continue jumping his dirt bike over it, he’d have to buy it. Later that evening, my brother and I were busy counting change in our bedroom.
We were rich. For a few hours. I recall my brother and I scheming about what we’d be buying with our new wealth. We were also talking about expanding our real estate empire to other dirt mounds, and driveways. Then reality came that evening with a knock-knock on the front door. It was that KJ’s mom. Not good.
Needless to say, that evening did NOT go well. Rags to riches to rags, to a month of punishment — all in about 4 hours. The “no TV” part of the punishment really sucked, because my brother and I were both Dukes of Hazzard fans.
I remember (pre real estate transaction) riding my bike, pretending to be driving the General Lee, and jumping it over that dirt mound. Ironic?
As I grew older I, of course, started “legit” businesses, like cutting lawns in the summers and shoveling drive-ways in the winter (upstate New York weather), not to mention delivering newspapers. Eventually I got the bright idea to start a business that was less “labor intensive”.
My business idea was to take grocery orders over the phone from a near-by Senior Living apartment complex, go purchase the groceries, then deliver them for a small fee (plus tip).
I think I had exactly three customers, until I realized the math didn’t really work. Then of course about 20 years later WebVan and Cosmo.com made short-lived successes doing essentially the same thing.
The difference? They had the Internet, and a few million dollars worth of start-up capital. I had a second dial-up phone line, and a 10-speed bike with baskets on the sides.
I learned a bunch of lessons in those formative years. Lessons that still make sense today.
During those “entrepreneurial” early years, I was also very creative. As I entered adolescence, personal computers were beginning to get powerful. And I began thinking my path in life would surely have something to do with computers and art. So the logical assumption was that I would become a … programmer?
Don’t laugh, my logic was that in order to make pictures on a computer, I would need to learn a programming language in order to instruct the computer on what to display on the screen. Made sense right? Remember, this was pre-Photoshop and all that. In fact my first real computer was a Commodore 64… I think the best art package available for that platform was Koala Pad.
Let’s just say, I found out relatively quickly that programming was not the quickest way to create computer art.
Fast forward a few years…
It all changed when I enlisted in the United States Air Force, and became a Photographer. It was then that I was taught the fundamentals of light, exposure, composition, motion, etc. It was a truly an in-depth education that gave me a very solid foundation in Photography.
I served as a Combat Photographer for 8 years, and was decorated many times for photography in the field. My unit was among the first in the military to receive digital SLR technology, and put it into daily action. That Kodak DCS 420 was a sweet 1.5 megapixel brick of a camera.
I also quickly realized that because of the quickening pace of digital imaging technology my dream of creating art on a computer was within reach. It felt like I’d found the thing I was destined to do.
My first station of duty was with the Combat Camera team out of Yokota Air Base in Tokyo Japan. This colorful and exciting city provided endless photographic subjects and challenges. I was there for two years, learning the art and science of photography.
Next I was transferred to Vandenberg AFB in California. Where I learned many more aspects of photography. Our team was responsible for photographing everything including standard head and shoulder portraits, grip and grin award ceremonies, sporting events, investigative, arial, forensic, and even space launches.
There was little room for error, so we had to be the jack of all trades, and master of every single one. It was a pain, but in retrospect the education was really priceless.
I did this for 8 years. And during that time, I attended the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and studied business, marketing, and design.
When I separated from the military I accepted a job as Chief Multimedia Producer at the San Jose Mercury News. It was amazing to see the waves of start-ups full of inspired and brilliant people, building amazing new products and services.
It wasn’t long before a little company called Yahoo! contacted me.
They wanted me to leave the “creative world” and join them as a Product Manager for Yahoo! Computers. The mandate? Create the equivalent of C|Net. Gulp.
It was an amazing time. Chock full of irrational exuberance, possibilities, and inspiration. We had fun, while trying to change the world.
I think we did.
Then Yahoo! had the idea that they wanted get into the news reporting business. So, they dropped a few million dollars (pocket change back then) and built three television studios, hired a crew made up of CNN ex-pats, and asked me and 5 others to become the reporters and anchor people for a new Internet-only show called Yahoo! FinanceVision.
We had SO much fun. I got the chance to meet and interview the Silicon Valley elite, while learning to be an “anchor person” and technology reporter. We really were making things up as we went along. But there were no rules, we were tech mavericks.
(to be continued…)