John H. White was born March 18, 1945, in Lexington, North Carolina, the son of Rev. Reid Ross White Sr., an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, and his wife, Mrs. Ruby Mae Leverett White. He bought his first camera at age 13 for 50 cents and 10 Bazooka bubble gum wrappers. John received his first photo assignment from his father. He recalls, “Our church burned down in Kannapolis, N.C., and my father asked me to take pictures of the ruins and the whole reconstruction. Maybe that’s why I do picture stories now; because I started that way.”
John received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Commercial Art and Advertising Design from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1966. One week after graduation, he began active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant, serving as a photographer. As a Marine photographer, he received numerous awards and honors and his work was featured regularly in military publications.
After military service, John White worked in the photo lab at Tom Walters Photography Studio in Charlotte, N.C. for one year. That year, he entered the Southern Short Course in News Photography competition and won 2nd place nationally in the General News category. This captured the attention of an editor at the Chicago Daily News, who recruited John to come to Chicago to join his staff.
John began his newspaper career at the Chicago Daily News as a photographer in 1969, moving to the Chicago Sun-Times when the Chicago Daily News ceased publication in 1978. In 2009, he celebrates his 40th year as a Chicago photojournalist. He says his greatest joy is being the “eyes” for the people of Chicago on a daily basis and sharing “what I see and what I feel” through the lens of my camera.
John White has received more than 300 awards from international, national and local organizations throughout his career, including:
• Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, 1982.
• Three first-place National Headliner Awards – spot news (1998), features (1990) and sports (1974). White’s photo of a gas leak that erupted into a 15-story fireball and scorched a Chicago senior living center was one of the most memorable news photos of 1998.
• The National Press Photographers Association’s Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award (NPPA’s highest honor) for commitment and leadership, in 1989.
• Chicago Press Photographers Association’s Photographer of the Year award a record five times.
• First photographer inducted in the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, 1993.
• The Chicago Medal of Merit, the city’s highest honor, award by Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Chicago City Council in 1999.
• Inducted into Chicago State University Hall of Fame, 2002.
• Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award, Chicago Headliners Club, 2003.
• The Nikon Award for years of service and friendship to photojournalism, 2006.
• The Chicago Journalists Association Lifetime Achievement Award, 2007.
• Associated Press Spot News Award, 2008.
• The Southern Short Course in News Photography Lifetime Achievement Award, 2009.
• Peter Lisagor Award for Best News Photo, 2009.
In 1978, John White began a part-time career teaching photojournalism at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught continuously for more than 30 years and is honored as Artist in Residence. In 2002–2004, he also served as Adjunct Lecturer in photojournalism at Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. He continues to lecture at Medill annually. In 2008, John received Teacher of the Year Award from the Columbia College Chicago Student Association during the “PJ Love” Seminar, an annual educational workshop in photojournalism.
For more than fifteen years, John participated annually in the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop “Barnstorm” as a team leader, working with students and editors from throughout the world.
In addition to his professional endeavors, John has been a volunteer photographer at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago for fourteen years.