Ari­zona man turned cam­era on in­jus­tices of Na­tive Amer­i­cans

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY FELI­CIA FON­SECA

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ. — An Ari­zona man cel­e­brated for the hu­man­ity that was show­cased in his pho­to­graphs of peo­ple across the Colorado Plateau and the world has died.

John Run­ning died last week­end of com­pli­ca­tions from a brain tu­mor at his Flagstaff home, said his daugh­ter, Raechel Run­ning. He was 77.

His love of peo­ple, places and their cul­tures took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, to Mex­ico to pho­to­graph the Tarahu­mara and across the U.S. to high­light what he saw as in­jus­tices against Na­tive Amer­i­cans. He pho­tographed chil­dren near the sea in Trinidad and hon­ored another pho­tog­ra­pher with pic­tures of farm­ers, fish­er­men, home­mak­ers and chil­dren in Scot­land.

Run­ning briefly as­pired to be a ge­ol­o­gist be­fore pawn­ing a 12-gauge shot­gun his fa­ther gave him on his 12th birth­day to buy a cam­era while work­ing in the New Mex­ico oil fields. He honed pho­tog­ra­phy while serv­ing in the U.S. Ma­rine Corps, de­vel­op­ing pho­tos un­der the cover of a blan­ket in his bunk. He an­a­lyzed lu­nar im­ages with the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, pro­duced train­ing films for as­tro­nauts and in 1967, won a pho­tog­ra­phy con­test in Flagstaff, where he had moved with his first wife, He­len. The two met while Run­ning was sta­tioned in Trinidad and had two chil­dren — Raechel and John Paul.

Through­out decades, Run­ning men­tored as­pir­ing pho­tog­ra­phers at his down­town Flagstaff stu­dio, which closed a few years ago. He was known for in­ti­mate por­traits of Nava­jos and Hopis who were dis­placed from each other’s land in one of the largest re­lo­ca­tion ef­forts in U.S. his­tory. He saw a sim­i­lar story line in the Is­rael-Palestinian con­flict and trav­eled there with Sue Ben­nett, a pho­tog­ra­pher who be­came his ro­man­tic part­ner, to doc­u­ment peo­ple’s lives.

Run­ning’s pho­tos also be­came album cov­ers for Canyon Records, an in­de­pen­dent la­bel spe­cial­iz­ing in Na­tive Amer­i­can mu­sic. Owner Robert Doyle said Run­ning was the only pho­tog­ra­pher he would hire for more than 15 years be­cause he was con­fi­dent Run­ning un­der­stood tribal cul­ture and reser­va­tion life, he was gen­er­ous and peo­ple felt com­fort­able around him.

“Part of the Canyon mis­sion was to present our artists not as eth­nic artists but as hu­man be­ings, for peo­ple to take away their eth­nic lens,” Doyle said. “That’s one thing I learned from John was to dis­card the eth­nic lens, to see peo­ple, the hu­man­ity, the in­di­vid­ual.”

Born in Buf­falo, New York, in 1939, Run­ning made his first trip to the South­west as a Boy Scout in his teenage years. He later grad­u­ated from North­ern Ari­zona Univer­sity in 1969 with an an­thro­pol­ogy de­gree.

His pho­tos of cow­boys, women body builders, cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives and pow wows landed in an­nual re­ports, cal­en­dars, ad­ver­tise­ments, mag­a­zines and books. Run­ning do­nated his col­lec­tion to North­ern Ari­zona Univer­sity’s Cline Li­brary in 2014 — some 20 mil­lion im­ages, ar­chiv­ist Jonathan Pringle said. Some of the col­lec­tion is dig­i­tized, in­clud­ing a time­line of Run­ning’s life and jour­nal en­tries.

The li­brary is hope­ful the col­lec­tion will give peo­ple a glimpse of the work that went into Run­ning’s pho­tos.


This 2012 photo pro­vided by Raechel Run­ning shows her fa­ther, pho­tog­ra­pher John Run­ning, left, with Jones Be­nally at their fam­ily photo stu­dio in Flagstaff, Ariz. John Run­ning died Jan. 7 of com­pli­ca­tions from a brain tu­mor at the age of 77.

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