John Johns

Info from Paul McNamara March 2012
JOHN H. G. JOHNS A.R.P.S. 1924 – 1999
John Johns grew up on a Devonshire farm in England which instilled in him a lifelong concern for the management and conservation of natural resources .He demonstrated, through his photographs, that pine plantations are worthy introductions [subjects], taking pressure off remaining stands of indigenous timber. He said, in 1994, “my job was to make forestry – long-term sustainable forestry – digestible to the public”
His book, Westland’s Wealth,1959, is evidence of his concern. It was commissioned by the Minister of Forests, the Honourable Sir Eruera Tirikatene, and documents the ravages of clear-felling native trees and the urgent need for forest management. “Dare we look the next generation in the eye as we hand to them the heritage that we have made, and are making for them – a ravaged countryside? ”

During World War II John served in the R.A.F. as a wireless electrical mechanic, and being posted to India for two and a half years, was able to trek in Nepal and Kashmir and pursue his great love, photography, which had developed from boyhood, on finding a Kodak camera in a cupboard in his home.
Demobilized in 1947, he began forestry training at Dartington Hall, Devonshire, as a Forestry Commission trainee. Later, he gained entry to the Forester Training Schools in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, and at Capel Curig, in North Wales, obtaining a Foresters Diploma. During vacations, he attended mountaineering courses at Rosenlaui in Switzerland, and at the French school at Saint Sorlin, pursuing and improving his photography.
At Dartington Hall he met and was encouraged in his photography by Douglas Wolf and Tom Stobart [of the 1953 Everest expedition].

He emigrated to N.Z. after the war, and his response to his new country was immediate: “It was a great landscape and I felt at home in it”. His skills as a photographer were identified by Alex Entrican, the Director General of the New Zealand Forest Service. He was the N.Z. Forest Service’s official photographer from 1951 until his retirement in 1984. His work is now in the National Archive. He was prolific in his specialist fields of forestry and wildlife photography, developing an extensive record of the natural world and its changes. Most of his aerial work in NZ was with Piet van Asch, the pioneer of aerial mapping photography.

In 1978 and 1980 he attended photographic workshops with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park, California. “John Szarkowski wants to meet you”. These were Ansel Adams’s opening words when John Johns arrived at the 1978 workshop. Szarkowski, the Director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and one of the most important influences on modern photography, had been taken with John’s workshop admission portfolio. But, more important than the implied accolade were Szarkowski’s comments. “He seemed to think that the message was getting through. There was a sense of purpose” Johns recalls [C. Brian Smith, Art New Zealand Number 65, Summer, 1992 - 93 pp64 - 8]

Principal influences were the photographers: Vittorio Sella [1859 -1943], an Italian mountaineer and photographer, Frank Smythe [1900-1949], a mountaineer and Everest veteran, and Herbert Ponting [1870-1935] who was photographer to Scott’s fatal second expedition to the South Pole.


1990 his work was included in the Auckland City Art Gallery exhibition: Two Centuries of New Zealand Landscape Art.

1991 his work was included in the exhibition: Pacific Parallels: Artists and the landscape in New Zealand.
This exhibition toured to seven venues in the U.S.A.

1992 The Bath-House Rotorua’s Art and History Museum, mounted an exhibition: John Johns Photographic Images 1952 – 1992

1995 National Archives mounted: Trees, Timber & Tranquility – an exhibition on the value of forests, featuring 130 photographs by John Johns.

2002 McNamara Gallery: A Life's Work: a selection of photographs 1950 – 1996

2004 - 05 McNamara Gallery: Fiction, one of 8 artists

2007 Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University, Wellington Primary Products

2008 McNamara Gallery: Nature as an object for rational study – a thoroughly modernist approach Selected photographs 1950s - 1993

His photographs represent a forthright documentary realism. [Two Centuries of New Zealand Landscape Art, 1990] This may be contrasted with the earlier work of pictorialists such as George Chance [but see numbers: 25 & 37 in the list of photographs]
…discordant combinations of the created and the natural recur in modern images of N.Z. such as… Pylons.
in which hard, rectilinear forms glisten dramatically against folded hills and lowery sky…[Charles C. Eldredge, Pacific Parallels]

The dead tree [‘frozen flames’] image is an important symbol in N.Z. art. John Johns documented the bleak, charred interior of a Forest Service tract, a hallucinatory vision of “frozen flames” in a grid.
The unpopulated landscape was also of interest, and from the air photographers have surveyed both its historical and natural features. John Johns’s forest views record changes in the landscape, both those of geological antiquity and those more recently effected by the New Zealand Forest Service. [C. Eldredge]

Public collections:
Auckland Art Gallery
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
National Gallery of Australia
Sarjeant Art Gallery, Wanganui
The University of Auckland

Paul McNamara
© McNamara Gallery Photography
New Zealand
b.1924, d.1999
Place Of Death


Works by this Artist