|IntroductionAbout The Photographer
John A. Kouns was born in Alameda, California in 1929. He grew up in the Santa Clara Valley and attended San Jose State College for two years until he was called into the Navy in 1951. He went to the Naval School of Photography at Pensacola, Florida, where he was trained as an aerial photographer. He served two years of active duty during the Korean War and was stationed in a photographic unit in Japan for one year.
After Navy service he returned to college and graduated with a degree in P.E. “Although I loved athletics, I did not want to make coaching a career.”
One of the experiences that helped influence the photographer to get involved with the civil rights movement was the blatant segregation that he witnessed on the buses in Pensacola in 1951 when dark skinned classmates were forced to sit in the back of city buses.
After Navy service and graduation from college, John returned to Florida in 1956. He wanted to document the surreal, unjust, inhumane system of segregation. He worked in a furniture factory in Jacksonville and did some photography, but felt that he needed to hone his photographic skills and widen his vision. So he took the bus to New York City.
He studied at the NY Institute of Photography and when he attended a photo workshop in the Village, he met photographers Harold Feinstein and Eugene Smith. Smith was working on his essay “The Pittsburgh Story” and Feinstein was making proof prints for him. They both had a great influence on Koun’s photography regarding selecting the vision and the making of the print.
In New York City he worked at various jobs that included dishwasher, longshoreman, and athletic director at a settlement house in Brooklyn, and he bought his first used 35 MM Leica camera.
(Photo captions provided by John A. Kouns)