Black Chicago in the 1970s, Through the Lens of John H. White
The Sun-Times laid off its entire photo staff today. Among the legends it let go: Pulitzer winner John H. White, one of the first black photographers for a daily paper. Here’s a look at his work.
Published May 30, 2013, at 2:15 p.m.
Text by Whet Moser
News just broke that the Sun-Times is laying off its entire photography staff, some 20 full-time employees. Tina Sfondeles is listing the names of her laid-off colleagues. Three of the first four have been at the Sun-Times since before I was born; combined, those four have around 140 years of experience. This one hits hard:
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer John H. White had been at the Sun-Times since 1978.
White was one of the first black photographers for an American daily newspaper. The first, John Tweedle, was hired in 1964 (!) by the Chicago Daily News; White was hired in 1969. He’s been a photojournalist ever since. When I was a high school student, White addressed my summer journalism program at Northwestern. Of all the excellent journalists who talked with us—White was not the only Pulitzer winner—it was White, a deeply religious and philosophical man, who made the deepest impression with a moral committment to his profession that went down to his bones.
The Tribune’s Scott Strazzante got to spend time photographing White himself, a peer and competitor, on assignment, and came away with the same impression: “John likes to say that he sometimes is given ‘assignments from God.’ Well, I can honestly say that my time spent with John H. White was a gift.”
There’s plenty of White’s work at the Sun-Times site. Despite his legendary reputation, White’s still very much a working daily news photographer. Recently, for example, been given the pedestrian job of photographing the Wells Street Bridge reconstruction. He’s an artist, but he’s also a beat photographer. But some of White’s best work, and one of my favorite Chicago photo collections of all time, came not for the Sun-Times but for the federal government as part of the EPA’s Documerica project, sort of a 1970s reboot of the profoundly important FSA/OWI photography of the 1930s and 1940s. I posted on this a while back, but am pleased to be able to present them in the vivid size they deserve.