First photograph published on May 28, 1970 in the Chicago Tribune. 

Validation is being

Published

TODAY ONE CAN REACH THE WORLD INSTANTLY, without cutting down a tree. This was not the case when my first photo got published. While I never intended to become a photographer, that simple validation, along with a cheque for $25.00 from the Chicago Tribune, probably made the difference. 

Having a camera around your neck opened doors in those days. Not many people had skills or access to a darkroom. That combination got me into football games, concerts, rallies, and world-travel. It kept me engaged, out of mischief, it became my passport to adventure. 

Most aspiring photographers of my era followed a well-worn path and newspaper was their main stepping stone. Since I had no professional aspirations, I found myself in South America living with Amazonian Indians instead of finishing school. Eventually, I did graduate from college and when fate smiled, I got hired by Rich Clarkson and the most celebrated newspaper in the country, the Topeka Capitol-Journal… read more about Newspaper Work

Decades

‘1980s DECADE

INDULGING DEFIANCE: Photography gave me wings but also a sense of boundless creativity. This was a decade of independence, anti-establishment. It was a decade that avoided entrapment, both stylistic and accomplishment,. an era of exploration and renaissance.

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On January 1, 1979, there was a rally in New York City’s Chinatown celebrating a historical normalization with China. My friend David Kutz and I decided “shoot” the event that Sunday but, I didn’t have any film. David wanted to shoot B&W, so he loaned me half a brick of Kodachrome (10 rolls). He will never let me forget that it was his film that gave me my first cover, and I love to remind him that it was because he wanted to make “art.”

The Editors at Newsweek thanked me profusely, they had missed the significance of the rally and did not assign coverage. That little oversight gave me a cover along with several photographs on the inside. The cover helped pay for a car and just after I drove it to Kansas to start to work as a newspaper photographer, 32 pages of my pictures appeared in GEO Magazine.

New Works

New Work

YOSEMITE AWAKENING

NEW WORK: It’s so hard to find new subject especially in iconic places where millions of photographs have been cherished. So when nature plays a role, I rejoice with gratitude in this new creative partnership.

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First published article in GEO Magazine 1979: Click on cover to view a virtual display of the article.

GEO magazine was the pinnacle of achievement for a photojournalist of that time. The German publication crossed the ocean to launch an American edition that was more desirable than National Geographic.  They hired the best writers only to play second fiddle to cutting-edge photography.  Thomas Hoepker, the German Magnum photographer, was appointed as the Director of Photography. Fortunate for me, he dared to give me, a lowly museum janitor, an assignment he had initially picked for himself to shoot.

I had no idea this fantastic and prestigious break would be a detriment to me with some players in the business. Bob Gilka, the Director of Photography at  National Geographic Magazine seem to resent me for sleeping with the enemy. He was not about to further my career . . . 

First issue of John Chao's magazine

I started a lifestyle magazine about Windsurfing and for the next 11-years, I was...

Click to view virtual article, click on corners to flip pages and click on page to enlarge.
In the fall of 1974 I moved to New York City because photography had become a weapon for social change. There was a movement called The International Concerned Photographers (ICP), the instigator was a Hungarian Jew by the name of Cornell Capa. His brother, Robert Capa and the legacies of three other fallen photographers, inspired Cornell’s Concerned Photographer’s movement and the establishment of a museum and educational center on Fifth Avenue, the International Center of Photography (ICP).
 

When I arrived, ICP was a 5-floor building with a penthouse and balcony. The first two floors were galleries and a bookstore. The third floor was for education as well as the basement, where darkrooms and lecture rooms resided. On the fourth and fifth floors were administrative offices and empty rooms for squatters like myself. I wasn’t the only one sleeping there, but being the “first live-in janitor” I immediately took over the penthouse with my hammock. In addition to the Fifth Avenue address with Central Park across the street, the job came with the perk to sit in on lectures. It was here, in a weekend workshop on photojournalism by Rich Clarkson and Thomas Hoepker, that my career began. 

Years later, I wanted to start a magazine for ICP and couldn’t get Cornell to take me seriously. Eventually, I did start the magazine, but it wasn’t about photography. I wish it were now! The museum would have fared better had it established a museum magazine in those early years. I knew intrinsically, in the ’80s, that a publication could reach broader audiences faster and more efficiently than a brick and mortar museum (pre-internet days). “Why not mail them the museum!” was my thought, instead, I started a lifestyle magazine, about Windsurfing, and for the next 11-years, I was “Gone With The Wind.” Cornell was pleasantly surprised and immensely proud of my achievement. He paid for a full-page ad from his pocket for 11 years and even promoted it in the museum’s bookstore.

It became an award-winning magazine, quoted, displayed and talked about in newspapers, magazines,TV stations across the country, even the world. It almost put a windsurfer in the White House. More importantly, it gave me the freedom to publish whatever I wanted…

 

ANNUAL REPORTS

The 80's was the heyday of high production value Corporate Annual Reports. I was lucky to be recruited by Arnold Saks, one of the top designers in NYC to work on several projects. more

POSTERS

There was a time, before the internet, when posters were popular. It was the counter-culture way of displaying self-identity, a hip form of rebellion. Whether on home walls, offices, or the streets, posters took flight as social defiance, protest and with time, they became affordable forms of art and decoration. more

VIDEOS

It’s a natural progression for a still-photographer to evolve into filming. Digital technology, has made making videos (as with photography) accessible. more

First movie Script by John Chao

MOVIE SCRIPT

It’s a natural progression for a still-photographer to evolve into filming. Digital technology, has made making videos (as with photography) accessible.more

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