John Turner was open to international trends in photography from an early age. He was an enthusiastic participant in camera clubs during the late 1950s, before training as a printing compositor in the early 1960s in Wellington. Later, he worked as a commercial photographer, before joining the Dominion Museum as a staff photographer. Turner was a lecturer at the Elam School of Fine Arts from 1971-2011. Turner was the editor of PhotoForum from 1974-1984 and again from 1990 to the present. He studied photographic history at Arizona State University (Tempe) and has written widely on the subject.
Turner’s own spontaneous and candid photojournalistic style draws inspiration from the high contrast and rich tonality of American “Straight Photography” (as exemplified by the works of Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand) and the mundane lyricism and warmth of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s humanist photography. In a New Zealand context, Turner’s work sits alongside that of his contemporaries Ans Westra, Max Oettli, John Daley, John Pascoe, Marti Friedlander, Len Wesney, Murray Hedwig and Robin Morrison. It is also important to remember that when Turner began his career, being photographed in public by a stranger was a novel and confrontational experience. Turner’s influence kept documentary photography at the forefront in New Zealand throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, capturing the essential character of the country at its humblest, most human, and sometimes at its most alienated from modernity. Turner currently lives and works in Beijing, China.