"Once in a while there is that special point in space and time when the spirit of the subject and the photographer join in a split second of communion."
John Shearer is a true renaissance man, fashioned in the mold of Gordon Parks. Like Parks, Shearer has been a photographer, writer, director, lecturer and professor. Gordon Parks was the first African American staff photographer at LIFE, John the second.
At 17, Shearer was one of the youngest staff photographers ever hired by a major publication when LOOK magazine first engaged his services. On Staff with LOOK 1966-1969, John covered civil rights marches in the South and the race riots of the turbulent 60s.As a young black man, most Southern whites hated him. Nevertheless, he was able successfully complete his assignments, and toward the end of 1969, Shearer was hired by LIFE in 1968, where he worked as a staff photographer until the magazine ceased regular weekly publications in 1972.
One of Shearer's classic stories for LIFE was his 1971 coverage of the first Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier slugfests, billed simply as the "Fight of the Century." The unbeaten Frazier won a unanimous decision as he handed Ali the first defeat of his pro career .But it was the added dimensions of politics, religion, race and ego whipped to a frenzy by the most charismatic and controversial athlete of the 20th Century that would capture the attention of hundreds of million os people throuhgout the world, most of whom had never even seen a professional boxing match.
Among Shearer's most important stories was his coverage of the Attica Prison riots in 1972. Shearer was the only photographer allowed inside the prison during the assault by New York law enforcement authorities, and many of his pictures were used in countless court cases inmates and prison guards brought against the state.
John Shearer has won 175 national photography awards, including Photographer of the Year in 1972. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, and the Whitney Museum, among other cultural institutions.
Daniel P. Donnelly
Deputy Director, Time Life Picture Collection