John H. White - Photojournalist
I've been so fortunate to have had incredible teachers in my life. These teachers, from kindergarden (Ms. Lyons), and all the way up to college, have all pushed me to do better. One of these teachers has and still is teaching me about life is, Pulitzer Prize Winner John H. White Staff Photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times, who will be celebrating his 40th anniversary as a staffer in Chicago this summer. John also taught Photojournalism Classes at Chicago's Columbia College and has done so for the past 30+ years. But not anymore, Photojournalism course may be offered in Columbia's upcoming fall semester but John H. White will not be teaching. This news puzzled me, why is JHW not teaching? Is he retiring? Is John working on a long-term project which may conflict with his course schedule. I was trying to rationalize and bring some sort of logic to this, only to find out from John himself that his not teaching was not by his choice. Such sad news, from a man so willing to share his wisdom and knowledge about his life experiences. But I continue I wanted to share how I came to John's class.
Back in spring semester of 1991 at Columbia College I had signed up for Thursday night course at Columbia College called "Photojournalism 1". I was a Fine Art Photography Major at the school at the time and my program required that you take classes outside of your field of study and Photojournalism was one of these and 'thank-god' for this because I would of never of met the man who was about to change my life. I had no previous knowledge of the teacher (John), I was not aware that he had won probably every major award in photojournalism to date, and I didn't know he working at my hometown newspaper The Chicago Sun-Times. That night all I remembered was a very humble man walking in and introduce himself to his students. I was shocked because I had seen this man before, I had seen him on the CTA bus, specifically the 60 Blue Island Ave/26th line that took me downtown to school. John was on Chicago Sun-Times' Ads all over the bus and subway billboards that went like this. ('Power, Passion & Emotion in a blink of an Eye' photographs you can see taken by John H. White, everyday in your Chicago Sun-Times). I had seen that ad countless of times back and forth riding public transportation. I was kinda shocked to see him standing there before me in class and wondering why was he teaching when he has a job already, was he broke and needed the money? I was in college remember I had no money and my world perspective was very limited in 1991.
Looking back he didn't so much teach about photojournalism, but he taught more about finding yourself, expressing those ideas feelings thru your camera and putting it on 36 frames of film, then onto a printed picture. He would then critique these prints in class find details you had overlooked and pushed each and everyone of his students to strive for greater and better photographs for next week's class. Funny I can't remember anyone of my other instructors at Columbia College being to excited about their student's work or looking forward to next's weeks class.
I would come to realize that John taught because he LOVED too, and not for any monetary compensation. He already had a very demanding job working at a daily newspaper, he would then turn around and teach 2-classes a semester at Columbia College for student like me. Wow, that is true dedication, so rare to find in any profession. Because of John I changed majors, and I graduated as a photojournalism from Columbia College and began working for the very same newspaper my teacher and mentor was at. The very same place that ran ads on the bus, Chicago Sun-Times. I was still a John H. White student, not just in photojournalism but in life.
This 2009 fall semester Columbia College will be offering a Photojournalism 1 course, but John H. White will not be the instructor. I'm sad for John, but I'm also sad for the future photojournalism students at the school, who will never get a chance to experience John's course. They will only hear about how Columbia once had one of the Premier Photojournalist in the Country and they let him go.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Columbia College Alumni of the Year 2009
A final note on a remarkable career
I can't remember the first time I met John H. White. I think I was 6 or 7. All I remember is a photograph that was taken a long time ago in a building that isn't there anymore with people who have moved on to bigger and better things since then.
My Uncle was a staff photographer at the Chicago Sun-Times then. Then I didn't know anything about newspapers other than A. My Uncle worked at one, and B. His co-workers were really funny and nice.
About 14 years later I took the most important class of my college career at Columbia, simply titled PJ1.
I'd heard about the class from my uncle, an alum of John White's life course.
In that class he showed my class a glimpse of not just photography, nor just photojournalism, but true life stories of remarkable people that we all too often deem ordinary.
He was open, he was caring, and most of all, he was accepting.
You could bring in fine art photographs and pin them to the wall and he would not judge, and that's something I can't say for the rest of the photography dept.
He inspired 17 people, opened up all of our eyes and showed us love. He talked to us, took an interest in our lives and understood what was thrown our way.
I'll never forget how he stayed after class and helped out one student during an extremely difficult time, during which she could not complete her assignments for that week.
And that kindness was not limited to just one person. He showed it to everyone.
John White has had a remarkable career, and while his Pulitzers and professional achievements are something to be noted and lauded, for me his personal triumphs and open heart is something that will stay with me longer than his amazing photographs.
He will be missed in the Columbia community and a new generation of photographers will never miss him the way his past students have.
And that's the thing I'm most sorry about.