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Jessica Johnson with her photo book, “Abandoned San Diego.” Johnson spoke at the RSF Library on Jan. 25. Photo by Alexander Wehrung
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Jessica Johnson visits library to talk about photography book

RANCHO SANTA FE — Poway resident, art teacher, explorer and photographer Jessica Johnson paid a visit to the Rancho Santa Fe Library on Jan. 25 to present pictures featured in her book, “Abandoned San Diego.” The book is a collection of photographs of buildings and locations in San Diego that have been, as the title implies, abandoned or otherwise fallen into decrepitude.

“(Abandoned locations) have an old history to them, but they have stories; it’s just their story is now in the past,” Johnson said. “But I love trying to piece together the old story of these places: who used to live there, who were those people, what did they do and kind of give it a new life.”

Some locations featured in her slideshow included the Hubbard mine, Eagle and High Peak mine, Old Highway 80, the Dyar House, the San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery and the California Theater. Johnson has found locations to photograph through a combination of intuition, research and outside tips. A recent favorite location she photographed was Rum Runner’s Cave, a tunnel used for booze-smuggling during prohibition.

While Johnson showed off her photography, she also told stories about incidents that occurred while she and her friends explored some of the presented locations, such as when her friend disturbed a beehive and Johnson discovered that by acting calmly, the bees wouldn’t sting them. Or when she and a friend were charged by a pit bull, which its owner called back before it could attack them.

Johnson has been taking photos of such locations in San Diego for the better part of a decade. She has been posting these photos to her website,, which she founded with the initial goal of encouraging people to adventure outside and manages jointly with her brother.

The event was part of the Rancho Santa Fe Library’s Author Talks series, which features authors speaking about their work. This event drew about two dozen or so attendees, who sat and listened attentively as Johnson read off prepared scripts regarding the individual histories of the locations she has taken pictures of. Johnson’s father was also in attendance, beaming at her with pride.

Johnson received a People in Preservation award from the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) for her work Aug. 17, 2019. “My goal is to just be self-sufficient and comfortable living off this and to make as big of an impact as I can positively, for the environment and for people in mental health,” she said. “The more people’s lives that I can touch and knowing that I pulled them out of some negativity, any animal or local preserve that I’ve helped protect, then I know that I’ve done the right thing.”

“I hope that everyone goes out and explores our city, because there’s so much cool stuff to see,” Johnson said.

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