John Morris touched the lives of almost every photojournalist working beginning in the early 1940’s and his life’s work had a massive impact on our profession.
I had the privilege of getting to know about John first through Gary Haynes, my boss at The Philadelphia Inquirer who had previously been his protege at The New York Times. Gary talked about John in glowing terms and passed on the joie de vivre that John always had, as well as his technical skills as an editor.
Later, while director of photography at National Geographic I had the privilege of working directly with John and getting to know him personally. John operated from Paris as our scout for story ideas and new photographic talent. On a regular basis, he would arrive at my office, carrying armloads of clips and portfolios (this was the pre-digital era) and we would sit and discuss the possibilities and his ideas for how to pursue the stories, or to work with the new photographers whose talents he was pitching. Inevitably, there were nuggets of gold in every conversation. But beyond his insights and skills, he had a way of being in the world that was truly enthusiastic and joyous.
He loved people, had immense curiosity, and was passionate about the value of visual journalism as a force for social good in the world. He brought people together to show the world as it was, but also to point to possibilities that would make the world better. His enthusiasm for life was infectious and his commitment to having photojournalism speak for the powerless and voiceless in the world was immense. Those qualities marked him as a “citizen of the world” and stood as a rebuke to those whose own vision of the world was crabbed and myopically self-centered – a “zero sum” game.
John believed progress was possible if we sought out the best in each other and nurtured it fully. That lesson applied deeply to my role at the time, and it profoundly influenced my own efforts to enable my colleagues to do their best work.
It was a privilege to know him and to get the chance to learn from him in all manner of ways. He left us as he lived, with a profound example of how to be in the world and how to use passion and commitment for the benefit of others. That lesson made an indelible impression I will always cherish.
Thomas R. Kennedy
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