John Willis is a photographer whose personal work and teaching typically fall within the social documentary genre, engaging the communities he works within. He considers volunteer and service community engagement work an important part of his life.
Willis is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Photography, 2010 and an Open Society Institute Community Engagement Grant, among other awards and grants. His photographs are in numerous permanent collections, among them the Center for Creative Photography, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, J. Paul Getty Museum, Library of Congress, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and Whitney Museum of American Art.
Willis’ books include Mni Wiconi/Water Is Life: Honoring the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and Everywhere in the Ongoing Struggle for Indigenous Sovereignty, Views from the Reservation, Recycled Realities (with Tom Young) and Requiem for the Innocent, El Paso and Beyond, a collaboration with writer Robin Behn and composer Matan Rubenstein. The project has also become a short experimental film designed for art installation.
His work with First Nations people began in 1990 when he was introduced to Eugene Reddest Comes Out First, an Oglala Lakota elder. His appreciation for the Lakota and other tribes and their beautiful living traditions stems in part from the fact that his family immigrated to the US in the early 20th century to escape persecution, which left him void of many cultural traditions.
- John Willis