About John Free

johnfree-about_r2_c1John Free is a social documentary/street photographer who lives in Los Angeles. His photographic essays range from railroad tramps in California to automobile abstracts to London and Paris street life.

His “End of the line” project took place in the Los Angeles freight yards, where he photographed railroad “Tramps” daily for ten years. “I photographed these severely damaged and tragic men and women, who, because of a personal tragedy in their lives, the war, the woman, the bottle, were forced to the dangerous lifestyle of riding freight trains. Eventually they come to Los Angeles which is the farthest west one can travel on a train.

John has been inspiring to photographers of all ages and skill levels for many years through teaching sold-out classes and workshops in street photography in Los Angeles, New York, Paris and London. Part stand-up and part evangelist, he speaks from the heart to inspire new generations of photographers. He is also involved with several non-profit organizations teaching inner-city kids the excitement and power they can get from being dedicated photographers
John’s work has been featured in numerous publications from U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek to Photographic Magazine to Smithsonian. He was among the international photojournalists selected to take part in the project that resulted in the book 24 Hours in the Life of Los Angeles. John’s work has been featured in a wide range of exhibitions, including the California Museum of Science and Industry, Los Angeles, Laguna Festival of Art, Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and the Bagier Gallery in Ojai, California.


I am a social documentary photographer. I have taught classes and workshops at USC, UCLA, Pasadena City College, Newport Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I have worked professionally at this craft for more than 30 years. For my personal work, I do street photography.

Street photography started way back in the history of photography, when photographers who were tired of studio work, took their cameras out into the living world to photograph life as it happened in front of their lenses. Street photography is the type of photography that the world’s most famous photographers did. Such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Andre Kertesz and many others.

For the past 20 years I have been conducting classes and workshops on street photography in various locations of the world, such as New York, Paris, London, and Los Angeles. I feel street photography is the best practice that a photographer can have to improve their photography, whether it be commercial photography, fashion photography, photojournalism, wedding photography, or fine art photography.

Street photography means having to deal with time, which requires the photographer to quickly notice the various details, elements and factors, that are present in the potential subject. The photographer must then determine which of the elements are to be included or excluded from the frame. The effective organization of the various details and factors is determined by accurate framing and precise timing of the shot. It requires the photographer to abide by some very definite rules. No posing or setting up shots. Nothing easily done is worth much. It is photographing at the speed of life.

My workshops, classes and private lessons are open to all photographers regardless of their level of skill. Beginning photographers will not “get in the way” or “inhibit” more advanced photographers with their presence. All photographers regardless of their skill must constantly study the same things in order to improve their images. We are always students when it comes to our photography. My workshops are adjusted to allow participating photographers and myself to spend as much time as possible photographing at various locations in the city where the workshop is taking place. Lectures occur as we work together and at meal breaks. There is also ample time for reviewing participants’ photographs and having one-on-one discussions with each photographer.

The time element in street photography is what makes this form of photography so difficult but also very rewarding for the photographer and the viewer of the resulting image. It is being able to make compelling photographs from everyday life situations that we find almost anywhere. This kind of photography is governed by time. We as street photographers must be fast. We must react almost instantly to a potential subject that appears before us. This speed factor is another element that makes this type of photography difficult to do, but it is also what makes the resulting photographs so valuable. Street Photographers are dealing with moments that are constantly vanishing, and once gone, there is no way to bring them back.

Another aspect of my workshops and classes is dedicated to the subject of survival in the real world of photographing strangers at close range without getting into trouble, or having the subject be aware of the photographer’s presence. There are also techniques that are studied that will allow the photographer to extricate his or her self from potentially dangerous situations that might happen when photographing at close range.

It gives me great pleasure to notice that most photographers are capable of a much higher potential in their photography if they learn a dedicated and practiced approach, therefore having a better understanding of what is required of them in order to produce effective photographs that will emotionally affect or move someone for having seen them. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with over 2500 photographers on a one-on-one basis. I have looked at their prints and watched them at work photographing situations in the street. Working with so many photographers has given me an excellent vantage point to see the many problems most photographers have to contend with. This experience has given me an excellent perspective on how to design a course that will prove effective in helping participants tailor a working technique that will fit their own unique personal vision.

The photographs that impress me the most were made by Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith. The photographs they produced showed me what an effective image could do to affect someone’s emotions. I decided that I would be a street photographer and that I would undertake a dedicated study of the photographs, philosophies, and working techniques of some of the best photographers who ever lived. After much study, I was able to have a sense of what was expected of me photographically in order to produce effective images that might measure up to the photographs produced by some of the best photographers in the world.

It is my hope that photographers who wish to improve will join me on the quest to realize excellence in our photographs that, because of their inherent strength will provide a more compassionate understanding of life to all who view them, regardless of their knowledge, language or spiritual beliefs. It is a way for photographers to be powerful in their lives by producing visual documents of immense value to humanity. Photography is a one world language it bridges the gap between language and cultures, explaining man to man and each man to himself.