Les Cleveland was an author, academic, outdoorsman, musicologist and journalist, as well as a photographer. He emigrated to New Zealand with his parents at the age of five, and was raised and educated in Christchurch and Timaru. Cleveland left school in 1937 to work as an electrician, and worked in radio and as a reporter for the Press in Christchurch, where he began taking photographs using a Kodak 2A camera. In 1939, Cleveland enrolled to study at Canterbury college, but he was recruited into the New Zealand Army the next year, and served overseas from 1942-46. While in Europe he became interested in mountaineering, and climbed Mont Blanc in 1945.
Returning to New Zealand, he worked as a reporter for the Christchurch papers and continued his studies. In the 1950s, Cleveland held a number of jobs, working as a bush contractor, welder and mechanic, as well as a journalist and photographer. In 1959 he published The Songs We Sang, a book of World War II soldiers’ songs, with an accompanying LP record. In 1964, Cleveland completed his MA in English Literature at Victoria University, Wellington, and in 1970 attained a PhD in Political Science from Victoria. His thesis is titled “The Structure and Function of the Press in New Zealand.” He published four books between 1966 and 1979: The Silent Land (1966), The Anatomy of Influence (1972), The Iron Hand and The Politics of Utopia (both 1979).
In 1979, he was appointed a Reader in Politics at the School of Political Science and Administration at Victoria. Cleveland was a member of PhotoForum, and his work was included in the nationally touring exhibition Witness to Change in 1985, organised by PhotoForum Wellington, with the Wellington City Art Gallery and the Serjeant Gallery, Wellington. Cleveland accepted a Senior Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. in 1987, retiring from his position at Victoria University. He continued to exhibit and publish well into the new millennium.