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Church Photos of a Lifetime

The late John C. Goodwin literally had a life-changing experience when he attended the March on Washington in 1963. For the next five decades, Goodwin used the power of photography to bring human struggles into focus. 

(Madison, New Jersey)

John C. Goodwin: "There are a lot of people who take wonderful art photographs and they see photography as really the art medium. And that really wasn't my perspective. My perspective was that I could use it as a means to promote social change."

Like many great artists, you may know John C. Goodwin's work though you might not recognize him on the street.

John C. Goodwin: "I keep one ear open as to what's going on. But I would grieve over something or celebrate something on my own time, not taking photographs."

Goodwin's art is capturing a story and the passion of the participants in a single image. This talent served Goodwin well during his twenty years as a staff photographer for the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries and his more recent work as a freelance photographer.

John C. Goodwin: "Every job I did for the church was different and I enjoyed that. You never knew what was gonna come up. I've enjoyed meeting people of every nationality. I traveled in the Middle East and Africa, South America and Asia, and there are beautiful people everywhere you go. And it's been a pleasure."

Goodwin photographed some of the most well-known people of the 1960's, many of whom lent their celebrity to the peace movement.

John C. Goodwin: "I photographed people like Peter, Paul and Mary. And I photographed William Sloane Coffin and Rabbi Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. and these were all people who were putting their faith on the line. People got tear-gassed and people got thrown in prison and so forth, but it was a responsibility people felt of trying to end the war or trying to end racism through being there, and being there in person, and putting their faith and their commitment into action."

"I traveled to over 70 countries, a good many of them for the Board of Global Ministries. It was interesting to find that the work of the church winds up being very religious in some ways and photographing seminaries and photographing speaking, preaching and so forth in churches around the world, to pretty secular people doing agricultural missions and so forth. And I enjoyed every bit of it. I was there 20 years, until I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and went on disability leave at the end of '94 or early '95."

Mark Shenise: "John is very socially active. He was instrumental in helping to end the death penalty in the State of New Jersey through New Jersey Church and Society."

Mark Shenise has worked closely with Goodwin, archiving photos for the General Commission on Archives and History.

(Shenise at computer) "Well we always scan it as what the original is."

Mark Shenise: "He's lived a way that most of us would be envious of for the kinds of ministry he's done with the lens of a camera and also the people he has met. He's a bit Bohemian which I like. I find him very interesting in hearing his stories where he's traveled the world. He captures the mood. He captures the intensity. He captures the pathos that goes into General Conference and has given that gift, that moment in time, to us who are interested in that&ellipsis;what I call the 'flush of history.'"

Over the years, Goodwin has captured ten United Methodist General Conferences. Some of Goodwin's most sought after photos are of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, Goodwin is quick to point out that his images show Dr. King standing up for a different movement.

John C. Goodwin: "A few publishers have asked me for photographs of Martin Luther King. I do not have photographs of Dr. King in the civil rights movement. I have photographs of Dr. King in the peace movement. And some of them liked my photos so much they elected to use them. But sometimes they had to make a disclaimer in the article or in the caption that this was not the March on Selma. This was a march in Arlington Cemetery or something of this sort. For the last year of his life I photographed him in a number of events relating to the peace movement."

John C. Goodwin: "In the peace movement period a lot of people were really not understanding each other at all. And a lot of the news media were showing pictures of quote 'hippies' and so forth campaigning against the war in Vietnam. And I was busy showing photographs. There were clergy people of all faiths-Protestant, Catholic and Jewish and other quote 'good' people-middle class people. They weren't all crazies. I always saw photography as a means. In fact there was a whole movement for many, many years, the concerned photographer-photographers who have dealt with bringing about an end to child labor, bringing about peace issues and working issues and unions and so forth. So that's a long tradition of photographers who used photography in that way."

Goodwin got his start in the school camera club in the 6th grade and found early inspiration in the social activism and words of his preacher father who dedicated a book to his young son.

(Goodwin reading dedication) "'To John, who at 10 years of age loves persons who are lovable without regard to their color or nationality. May no person teach him differently.' So that was kind of a marching order. That kind of gave me a goal in life."

For more than half a century, John C. Goodwin chronicled a changing world and given a voice to those who seek love and peace. Goodwin passed away in 2017 at the age of 75.


For more information about John. C. Goodwin's photos, contact the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History at 973-408-3196.

This story was originally published on October 16, 2013.

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