Nova Scotia Archives

John Collier Jr. - Photographer, Digby County

John Collier Jr. (1913-1992)

John Collier Jr. (1913-1992) was one of the outstanding photographers of the 20th Century. He came to Nova Scotia at the invitation of the late Dr. Alexander Leighton, whose love for this area led him to want to provide future generations with a pictorial history. With this in mind, Dr. Leighton submitted a proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation for funds to create such a record. Because of this forward thinking, John Collier and his family were able to spend the years of 1950 and 1951 in Digby County making such an archive.

At the age of 10, John was in a car accident that resulted in a severe hearing impairment. Because he was unable to attend regular school, his mother developed a special program of instruction for him which included photography. In his twenties, he was able to attend the California College of the Arts, where he received further training in photography and also painting. Embarking on his photographic career, he captured on film images of people and places including the Northwest Territories, the Peruvian Highlands of South America, and Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest United States.

In 1961, he joined the faculty of California State University at San Francisco, where he wrote one of the earliest textbooks on the use of photography in the social sciences. Titled Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method, this work encapsulated human lives. John Collier Jr. spent much of his later life developing educational programs for children with disabilities.

In 1943, John married Mary Trumball, who was also a professional photographer. Not only did Mary contribute photographs to their growing collection but she also gave unstinting energy and skill to the task of cataloguing thousands and thousands of photographs. A picture of Mary appears beside the one of John and their firstborn son, Malcolm, who also became a photographer and a close collaborator with his father.

— Dr. Jane Murphy Leighton



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