John Isaac was born in a village near Trichy in southern India in 1943. In 1968, he left India and moved to New York to pursue his musical career. After struggling to make a living as a musician, he joined the United Nations as a clerk after a woman heard him singing on the street and asked him to join the United Nations choir. He then became a dark room technician in the United Nations' Department of Public Information. Later, he became the head of the photography department. Over the course of twenty years, John Isaac traveled to over 100 countries as a photojournalist for the Untied Nations. He photographed war in Lebanon, the famine in Ethiopia, Cambodian refugees, the Bosnian war, and the Rwandan genocide. John Isaac retired from the United Nations in 1998, and focused on capturing nature and animals.
John Isaac's philosophy throughout his photography career has been to treat every living thing, human, plant or animal, with respect and awe. Photography is a way of life for him. He states "I love every aspect of photography and want to be involved in the whole package: coming up with a concept, hunting around to take the photos, the post production work and making the final print." His new work is an evolution of all that came before. He explains his current body of work: "The abstracts I’m doing now are challenging because I have to really search for the image I’m hoping to capture. I am not in my comfort zone and I am exploring new territories, which is exciting."
John Isaac's 40-year photography career has led to participation in many workshops, including a yearly appearance at the Maine Media workshops in Rockport. He has authored many books, including a series of four books called “Children in Crisis”. Through this series, he gives a first-hand account of the daily lives of children and their families in regions around the world. He also was featured in a book called “Photojournalist in the Middle of Disaster” about his coverage around the world while working for the UN. He co-authored “Endangered Peoples” for the Sierra Club and “Coorg: Land of the Kodavas” about a coffee growing region in southern India. Seven of his photographs were featured in the Day in the Life of Africa book. His most recent book was published by W.W. Norton called the “Vale of Kashmir”. His next big project will be to release a book on the tigers of India.
Throughout his career, John Isaac has received numerous national and international awards, including: Best Outdoor Photographer of the Year from Graphis Magazine (1991), Professional Photographer of the Year (1993) by the Photographic Manufacturers and Distributors Association, and the Lifetime Achievement Award (2000) from the International Photographic Council. In 1991 the legendary Audrey Hepburn chose one of John Isaac’s photographs of herself carrying an Ethiopian child as one of her all time favorites for American Photo magazine. John worked closely with Miss Hepburn while she was UNICEF Ambassador, traveling with her to many countries.