Arizona man turned camera on injustices of Native Americans
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.