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John Running was born in Buffalo, New York, November 19, 1939. His father worked while his mother was a homemaker. Running had one older sister, Pat. After graduating from high school in 1957, he studied briefly at the New Mexico School of Mines, intending to become a geologist. But he left in 1960 before graduating and started on the path to becoming a photographer, though he didn’t really know it yet. While working for a year as a roughneck in New Mexico’s oil fields, he pawned the twelve gauge shotgun his father had given him on his twelfth birthday and bought his first camera. He took it with him when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1961. His tenure in the Marines took him to North Carolina, where he developed a deep-sea diving habit, and to the Mediterranean, where he learned to develop photographs aboard ship under a blanked-draped bunk while other crew members watched movies. Stationed in Trinidad for two years, he continued to dive and would sometimes get a buddy to cover his guard shift so he could use the darkroom. He was honorably discharged in 1964. He married Trinidadian Helen Lau, and the two of them moved to Flagstaff in 1965, where Running attended Northern Arizona University, with a major in anthropology.
He had long been interested in people and cultures, and thought a degree in anthropology would allow him to teach and travel. Eventually, he imagined attaining a Ph.D. At the same time he was taking classes, he also worked for the U.S. Geological Survey to support his family. Initially, he interpreted aerial photographs and in anticipation of the first moon landings, analyzed images of the lunar surface, but soon moved to the USGS’s Film Documentation Unit where he made training films for astronauts. Taking a year off from school, he was mentored by Walt Roeder, the head of the unit. In 1967, he began entering local photography contests sponsored by Flagstaff supply store, Jean and Trox. That year, he won first prize, which included a Nikon camera and light meter. He had his first show at NAU’s Student Gallery in 1969, and graduated from NAU that same year. In 1970, he began his freelance career. The following year, he opened his first studio in downtown Flagstaff.
Throughout the 1970s, Running honed his craft, while beginning and cementing relationships with the people and the places of the Colorado Plateau. In 1973, he made his first trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, a journey that he would repeat multiple times a year throughout the rest of his life. During these years, he also documented local protests of the development of the San Francisco Peaks, which put him into contact with a variety of Native Americans—Navajo and Hopi—who were trying to protect their sacred lands. A working partnership with writer Noel Bennett brought him to the Navajo reservation to make photographs for a book on weaving. His relationship with the Navajo was strengthened further when he made a series of documentary portraits of Navajo who were involved in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute in the late 1970s. The landscapes and people of the Colorado Plateau continued to be a dominant theme throughout his work.
In the early 1980s, Running began a professional and personal relationship with fellow Flagstaff photographer, Sue Bennett. They remained collaborators and life partners until her death in 2003.
Running and Bennett traveled together across the United States and around the globe to make photographs. In 1980, they made their first of two trips to Occupied Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon to photograph Palestinians. Running adamantly wished to show the humanity of a group of people being cast as terrorists, to photograph a Palestinian without a Kalashnikov rifle (oral history part 2). Also in the early 1980s, they went to the Sierra Madre of Mexico to photograph the Tarahumara. In subsequent years, they traveled together to photograph Native Americans throughout the United States as well as to various points in Europe on assignments for a variety of magazines, and other commercial venues.
Running’s work has been featured in numerous magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Arizona Highways, Holiday, New Woman and Shape. Additionally, he has been featured in photography magazines, such as Camera Arts, Modern Photography, Camera, Picture Magazine, and Popular Photography. Magazine covers include Harper’s Magazine, Outside, Adventure Travel, and Communication Arts. He has also published several books of photographs, and his photographs have been featured in numerous books.
In his studio, Running developed long-lasting relationships with models, and experimented with light, equipment and technique. Continuing an interest in the form of the fit female, which had begun with his work on ballet dancers in the 1970s, he began photographing female body builders in the mid-1980s for a series he called “The Sensuality of Strength.” He continued a fascination with the female form, making several erotic series that he published in portfolios and occasionally exhibited locally and online.
Running’s work has been both commissioned and featured in numerous advertising campaigns including Eastman Kodak, Nikon and U.S. West. For six years in the 1980s, Running made photographs of Native American pow wows, fairs and rodeos for a yearly Coors Brewing calendar. In the 1990s and 2000s, he developed a specialty in photographing corporate employees for annual reports and other documents, working, for example, with Justin Industries, Laidlaw and Sterling Commerce. To each of these encounters Running brought his considered, careful vision and the same level of interest in his subjects as he did to his editorial shoots.
Even as he excelled commercially, Running continued to create his own projects. In 2001, he and Bennett made a trip to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, islands on the western side of the country. Running photographed crofters, homemakers, fisherman, brewers, and children. It was homage to Paul Strand, a modernist photographer who had traveled to the same region in the 1950s.
In December 2010, Diane Immethun, a friend of Running’s, approached him to take photographs of her before she lost her long auburn hair to chemotherapy. When she decided to shave her head pre-emptively, she asked running to photograph that event. Recognizing the power of the experience she was about to embark on, Immethun and Running decided to document her breast cancer treatment. Running photographed visits to her doctors, chemo treatments, reconstructive surgery, recovery and the many moments of life lived in between.
Running continues to run his studio in downtown Flagstaff. In 2013, he married jeweler Shelley Claude. Together they operate the gallery attached to the studio. His personal website demonstrates that he continues to make personal photographs and is available for commercial projects as well.
John Running's Timeline