JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
Retired Gunnery Sgt. Johnny M. White, a custodian at the Tarawa Terrace I Primary School and member of the Professional Photographers of North Carolina, was recently awarded his Fellowship and Associate Fellowship of Photography at an annual convention in Raleigh, N.C., March 8. White stumbled across photography as a youngster, which grew into an enduring hobby and then a lifestyle that he lives out every chance he gets.
White, a father to three children and husband to Barbara, an elementary school teacher, served in the Vietnam War and in support of the Gulf War.
“When I first came into the Marine Corps in 1969, I was a combat engineer,” said White. “After going to Vietnam, I went back to Camp Pendleton with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, (1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force.) Then, the photography bug was working on me but I didn’t realize it. I had a camera then and I took photos of everything.”
White said his current skill with a camera came about somewhat accidentally, after using the camera randomly around the barracks to photograph friends and fellow Marines. After taking so many photos and becoming known as somewhat of a ‘photographer,’ White was eventually invited to shoot for parties, family portraits, weddings and even favors for his command.
White’s first camera was a 1966 Petri 7S, originally manufactured after its older brother, the 1963 Petri 7S Circle-Eye System.
“Once I had that camera in my hands, I knew then that photography was something I would love,” said White. “I felt comfortable with it and I was always eager to learn more. Later on, I ran across people that had gone to school for photography who started teaching me the different things about lighting and settings. The more I learned, the hungrier I got.”
With a stroke of chance, White encountered members of the North Carolina Professional Photographers Association who invited him in for a tour. Amongst the pros, White discovered a new world of photography that the average person doesn’t get to come in contact with. He happily joined the organization and has been with them for the last 12 years.
“(I learned that) the average person would buy a camera, put it on automatic and go shoot,” said White. “When you set it on manual, you have to apply all the lens and lighting settings. There are a number of photographic masters who have left books and tapes that are available for us to learn from, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years - studying some of the work of these artists to improve myself.”
One of White’s inspirations, Don ‘Big Daddy’ Blair, is a renowned photographer who began as a photographer’s assistant in the sixth grade, in 1939. After many years of hard work Don’s career and reputation flourished. After more than 50 years as a photographer, Don amassed awards and recognition across three continents.
“Don Blair has left a legacy of things that he has taught to so many photographers around the country,” said White. “Even today, his techniques are still current and I don’t think they'll ever go away. He learned from other masters and the knowledge just trickles down.”
Today, White has participated in a number of charities that the NCPP supports across the country as well as a number of different events locally. The organization also has an annual convention, where training and the awards banquet take place.
“Attaining a Fellowship Award is like getting to first base in our organization,” said White. “I’m working on receiving my national certification as a professional photographer. I’m also working on my master craftsman degree.”
White’s final goal is to become a master of photography, which he doesn’t foresee happening anytime soon. Aside from all the necessary service hours he has to put into the organization, he has to compete in photography competitions and earn credits amongst experts in his field, as well as host informative lectures.
White, who recently crossed his 30th year of government service mark this past January, plans on retiring from the school system and becoming a full-time photographer – along time dream of his.
“Most people don’t realize photography is not only a craft but also an art form,” said White. “A lot of the pictures that I take I’ve already seen in my mind. I already know what images I want and most of the time it’s just a matter of putting people or objects in the right place. Developing that eye comes with time.”
Another of White’s theories on photography is, “As the moment is going on, you have to capture it. Once you capture it, you can enjoy it over and over again. If you take time to enjoy the moment while it is going on, you missed it.”