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Making Photographs

As a photographer, Running designs his photographs. He edits them through choices about which images to print, as well as in the dark room or on the computer. His photographs have ended up in variety of publications, and on display in numerous venues. In Cline Library Special Collections and Archives, his photographs and papers will be cared for, preserved, and made available to researchers.

Running’s photographs and words tell the story of how a photograph moves from an idea to a finished product, such as a print, a magazine cover, or an illustration.


Running designs the shot by visualizing how elements will fit together. He thinks about how he can direct the viewer’s gaze to really demonstrate the power of the photograph:

“And so I think there are rules to composition, one of the things being the Rule of Thirds, and the other thing that kind of is all around us, and it’s good to be aware of, is the spiral of the chambered nautilus. So this is a chambered nautilus. It’s a Nautiloid that’s kind of an octopus.... It’s kind of related to octopus [sic] and squids, and it has lots of tentacles that come out here. But there’s this spiral… this spiral here is mathematically defined, and it’s called the Fibonacci series [sic]. And it’s an Italian in the 1400s [who] kind of came up with the numbers. And this is a number that just reoccurs in nature all the time. So our eyes, we just live with these curves. And if you look at the top of a sunflower, you see the same pattern. If you look at a satellite view of a hurricane, you see the same spiral. There’s just so many things in our life that this set of math just kind of involves. I think a lot about it in my work…”

~ John Running Oral History, 2014. Courtesy of Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives, NAU.OH. 2009.124.22


"When I started doing photography, it was film--color, or black-and-white. At first, mostly black-and-white, because that was cheaper and I could process it myself. I think I told you I won my first Nikon in a photo contest, and so that put me on the Nikon path. And so I’ve been a Nikon user my whole career. For a bit I’ve used two-and-a-quarter cameras, like Rolleiflex or Mamiyaflex. But basically I was a 35mm camera user. That carried all the way through, just kind of maybe buying new cameras and upgrading that way; and then buying new lenses. At first, everything was just prime lenses. Zoom lenses weren’t very sharp, they had issues. And so I preferred to use fixed lenses, and so had a range of fixed lenses."

~ John Running Oral History, 2014. Courtesy of Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives, NAU.OH. 2009.124.22


Clicking the shutter is just the beginning. Running, like all photographers, edits his images as well. Until 2003, Running shot with a film camera and would then make selections from a contact sheet or slides. In his dark room, he would carefully make prints.

In 2003, Running decided to make the leap to digital photography exclusively.

“At first I was a little hesitant to do that. You know, I was still using film. I had gone from shooting black-and-white to color--color transparency. And then I was in a stage where I was using color print film, because I liked that better. It just had more latitude--latitude meaning being able to accept darks and lights, and have some room. But anyway, I bought a digital camera and immediately just liked it. I liked it, you could shoot more, you could shoot faster, you didn’t have to change film.”

Simultaneously with the introduction of digital technology, Running found he was using his dark room less and less. The convenience of digital images afforded him the opportunity to review, edit, and manipulate his raw work virtually. Final prints would no longer be made in the dark room; professional Inkjet printers would become the printing technology of tomorrow.

“So probably a year after that [2003], I didn’t do any darkroom work anymore. I didn’t develop film anymore. I still made prints occasionally, but I got to where I would prefer to just scan a negative and then work with the digital file [rather] than go in the darkroom and make prints. I had a client one time that wanted to buy a print, and he wanted to see me print it. That was the last time I was in a darkroom. . . .”

~ John Running Oral History, 2014. Courtesy of Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives, NAU.OH. 2009.124.22


Even the production of a print or a “worked” digital file is not the end of a photograph’s story. Running looked for ways to get his photographs seen by the public, in books and articles, posters and exhibitions, advertisements and catalogs.

A freelance photographer’s livelihood can be somewhat precarious; there’s a constant need to find work, to make your photographs available to paying customers, so you can pay for cameras, film and other equipment, for travel, for your models’ time—not to mention for food and shelter for you and your loved ones.

Though a successful photographer, Running went through some lean times. His journals describe times of anxiety as he worked out strategies to “hustle” more work. He reveals his plans for getting more paying gigs, while still maintaining the integrity of his vision. For example, in 1985 he wrote to his then representative Janet Traylor.

"I can and will work very hard. So for the next couple of years I would like to concentrate on work that will make money for both of us. If I want to gross $100,000 per year, I need to make about $150,000 before you take your cut. So there is a goal. Gross $150,000 per year, starting in 1986. I think we can do it.

Then a thought of qualification. I don’t plan to sell out my creativity, or not do my own work. Reaching financial security should be liberating, not confining. What it does mean is that I am very willing to work hard for a few years as is necessary, in order to achieve financial security, and creative freedom. . . ."