Johnny Ace began his photography career when he was 16 years old. In 1966, he took a beginner's photo class at his alma mater, Franklin K. Lane in Brooklyn, New York. He won an all-city photo contest, part of an exchange program with New York City high schools and Japanese high schools. Ace, right from the start, had a natural gift for photography. However, Johnny Ace would come to an artistic crossroads early on.
At the age of 15, Johnny Ace found the blues, and in 1966, he decided to devote his life to music instead of photography. Living in New York City in the late '60's, Ace had the rare opportunity to watch , study, meet, and finally learn from the very best in the blues business. He bought his first bass guitar from a shop on New York City's Guitar Row on 48th Street for $44.00 with no case and the rest is a quiet history.
Over Ace's thirty years as a professional blues musician, he has worked and toured with many of the great blues legends: Victoria Spivey, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Eddie "Clean Head" Vinson, Roscoe Gordon, Elvin Bishop , Charlie Musselwhite, and most recently Boz Scaggs .
However, Ace found that his love for taking pictures never would die, and since 1995, he has steadily been building up, click by click, an immense body of work that rivals only the best. His target is to capture through the camera's all seeing eye portraits of the city's downtrodden, ghosts, crouched in long shadows of tall buildings, ravaged yet still wandering, through back alleyways and mysterious tunnels, searching endlessly ... men and women ... for the Amercan Dream?
Ace's ironic beauty surfaces in signs. Thoughts of the lost speak through scribbled messages left on left on windows and doorways, telephone poles, faces are torn from scattered paper advertisements, effigies emerge streaked and stripped from paint and dust--and human faces--faces that can not be forgotten--speak through their eyes. In Ace's subjects you can see a dignity that can not be dismissed. And in that dignity lies his mark as a master documentarist. Aces work is essentially an uncovering, for beneath a culture imbued in its own surreal worship of money, manikin-like beauty, and power, there creeps a secret . As the taper ticker advertisement reel slips clean from the spool and spins empty, suddenly all is exposed. For a tiny second, as the camera clicks, we are in the underbelly ... at midnight watching.
Tommy Castro, Ace's good friend and fellow blues man, knowing of Johnny's talent for taking candid pictures, asked him to shoot the recording session with John Lee Hooker, which took place at Hooker's home in Los Gatos, California on June 14th, 2001. This recording session would prove to be an historic event and sadly the last for John Lee, the world's most recorded blues artist, for he died peacefully in his sleep on June 21rst, 2001, only one week after the session. Johnny Ace was able to create from this experience many stunning photographs. A series of eigh photos were exhibited as a solo show at prestigious The Scott Nichols Gallery from August 22nd through October 2nd, 2002 and the seris was also exhibited at The San Francisco Art Exchange. Ace has been regularly included in group and solo shows since 2002 at the Scott Nichols Gallery, where he has attracted considerable attention from both public and press.
Johnny Ace is also a staff writer for the national blues magazine, Big City Blues, based in Detroit, and has interviewed many a great and contemporary blues artist. Through Big City Blues, two interesting articles have been published on John Lee Hooker's last recording session. One article is an interview with Tommy Castro, "Tommy Castro on John Lee Hooker," and the other is a Cornelius Harp interview with the Ace man himself: "John Lee Hooker's Last Recording/ Photo Session." Johnny Ace has also written an unusual book about dreams, "Celebrities Visit My Brain," and a screen play, "The Doo Wop Priest". Johnny Ace currently lives in San Francisco, where from 1987 until 2000 he raised his four children. His kids are all adults now. He formed a band with the lovely Texas blues songstress Cathy Lemons in 1996, called the "Cathy Lemons Johnny Ace Blues Band," and in 2000 they recorded a blues CD "Dark Road," which received excellent reviews from every major blues magazine in the United States. They currently reside in San Francisco where they regularly perform in clubs and at festivals. Lemons and Ace plan to record a new CD soon---so stay tuned!