On the Record: Chris Johns

Award-winning National Geographic photojournalist Chris Johns says FFA gave him the life skills and leadership training for career success. Johns was the 1969-70 Oregon FFA State President and twice attended the National FFA Convention in Kansas City. In 2003, was named one of the world’s 25 most important photographers by American Photo magazine.

Portrait of Chris JohnsNew Horizons: What do you remember of your FFA experience?
Chris Johns: I grew up in the Rogue River Valley of Oregon on a small farm. I joined FFA and really liked the ag mechanics classes, learning how to build and fix things. I particularly liked metalworking and animal husbandry. And I really liked the leadership aspect of FFA. I was elected Oregon FFA president and visited every FFA chapter in the state.

It was an incredible learning experience in how to interact with people.

NH: When did you discover your passion for photography?
CJ: That happened at Oregon State University. I was going to become a veterinarian, or maybe an ag teacher, but along the way I took a journalism class and really liked it. Then an FFA friend of mine, Dennis Dimick, got me interested in photography. I was hooked.

My dad asked if I was still thinking of becoming a veterinarian, and I told him that I had decided to be a photojournalist. He just said, “Well, be a good one.”

NH: How did the FFA experience serve you in your career?
CJ: I can truthfully say that nothing has so profoundly impacted me as to who I am or how I make a living as FFA. Those shop classes gave me the skills to repair a broken turbocharger on a diesel engine in the middle of an African desert. The leadership training enables me to connect with all kinds of people – rich or poor, conservative or liberal, all ethnic backgrounds – all over the world.

NH: Has agriculture stayed with you?
CJ: Of course, it never leaves you. For example, when I was editor in chief of National Geographic magazine, we did a series of articles about what it would mean to have 7 billion people on Earth and what it would take to feed 9 billion by 2050.

NH: What’s your best advice for FFA members?
CJ: Nurture your curiosity. Be a lifelong learner. Strive for excellence in whatever you do. My dad told me to “be a good one.” That’s still good advice.

And one other thing: Always do good work for humanity.

– By Gene Johnston


This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of FFA New Horizons.