A man walks by a restaurant in an East Nashville neighborhood during the February snowstorm of 2021.
Artist Interviews

Photojournalist John Partipilo

Award-winning photographer John Partipilo is known for capturing striking imagery. For more than 40 years, his photos have showcased the highs and lows of the human condition, often pulling a viewer into moments of crisis, unity, and historic relevance. 

Photographer John Partipilo with his Sony camera shooting photos for the press after the Nashville Christmas bombing.
Photographer John Partipilo with his Sony camera shooting photos for the press after the Nashville Christmas bombing.

He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. By building trust with those on site, he can get past safety barriers and into dangerous situations for the perfect shot. He can win over  the toughest of people in the most difficult places, and blends into the crowd while the action unfolds. 

Protesters peacefully surrender in the downtown streets of Nashville during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Protesters peacefully surrender in the downtown streets of Nashville during a Black Lives Matter protest.

“Never ask permission, just beg for forgiveness.” – John Partipilo

The excitement of photography for John began when his camera was taken away by a nun in Catholic school, as he explains in The Creative Push video episode attached below. The attention from that experience gave birth to his love of photojournalism early on.

Soldiers, 1-327 Infantry Division, sitting in the Kuwaiti desert
Soldiers of the 1-327 Infantry Division chose to take cover in the open Kuwaiti desert rather than stay in a bunker as they wait for the all clear after an attack.

As a freshman studying fine art at the University of Arkansas, he considered being a writer while working with the college paper. That direction changed when the editor handed him a camera after their photographer became ill and was unable to cover a story. A friend of John’s secretly entered those photos into a University of Missouri photo contest and they unexpectedly won. The prize allowed him to shadow three National Geographic photographers, and that event marked the moment John decided to pursue photojournalism. You can find out more here in the story for Launch Engine

A group of COVID-19 nurses in gloves, masks and shields stand in a hall at a hospital in Nashville.
A group of COVID-19 nurses in gloves, masks and shields stand in a hall at a hospital in Nashville.

While in college, John studied visual storytelling on his own because UA didn’t offer photojournalism classes. Despite this, he admits that the creative assignments and foundational learning of the arts while in college enhanced his artistry. He still uses many of his early school assignments today to generate new photography ideas.

After college, John worked for The Arkansas Gazette before moving to California to work with photographer Douglas Jones at Look magazine. Jones also taught classes at the Brooks Institute of Photography where he continued to learn. There he gained knowledge in commercial photography and perfected his lighting skills. Jones became John’s mentor for the next 10 years.

An American man of color peacefully showcasing his mask representing the flag during a Black Lives Matter protest.
An American man of color peacefully showcasing his mask representing the flag during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Over the years John has worked with the Baxter Bulletin, The Tennessean, People, Newsweek, and The New York Times. He photographed war imagery with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and covered assignments on President Obama. He documented Crosby, Stills & Nash while they were on tour, and has covered other prominent musical groups in Nashville over the years. 

man with goggles while in WAR IN IRAQ 101ST AIRBORNE

“I don’t try to think about things too much, I call it ‘Zen photography.’  You can think yourself out of a photograph. I have confidence that I’m going to get something really good and I just wait for it.” – John Partipilo

John currently works for Tennessee Lookout shooting photojournalism assignments as a freelancer. He has self-published two books, Cuba: My World Ends Here and Rancho Beyondo.

In the recent interview with John below, he shares his motivation, work ethic and journey to where he is today.

During COVID-19, John created a pandemic portrait series. He continued his work as a photojournalist in spite of the risk COVID presented, covering the Nashville BLM protests, the Nashville Christmas bombing, and various other political events. Most recently he photographed the seven remaining Nashville Civil Rights activists, the Freedom Riders

Freedom Rider, King Hollands sits in the Civil Rights Room at the downtown Nashville Public Library.
Freedom Rider, King Hollands sits in the Civil Rights Room at the downtown Nashville Public Library.

“Right now a lot of things with race are really coming to a head. I am glad that things like this are happening because it is really bringing attention to what needs to be changed in our country.” – John Partipilo

a protester sits on the ground in front of the Police in downtown Nashville
A protester sits on the ground in front of the Police in Nashville during a peaceful BLM march downtown after unrest from the George Floyd event.

He says he tries to anticipate what might develop by watching and studying what’s happening around him. He believes in showing up early and staying late to get the best shot, and knows he has to always be ready no matter what. He carries a camera with him at all times, which has helped him stand out in the profession.  

Two young boys with their backpacks wearing mask stand in their front yard during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Two young boys with their backpacks wearing mask stand in their front yard during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“I am not much on using my phone as a camera, I prefer to shoot with my digital SLR, the first time you miss a shot it will forever cure you of not having the right camera.” – John Partipilo

John makes it a point to take pictures every single day, and will randomly pick a subject that will spark his creativity. 

John Partipilo business headshot

“A lot of times I just open up a dictionary, point at a word and go shoot it.” – John Partipilo

John doesn’t look at other photographers’ imagery for ideas, he prefers to concentrate on his own work and push himself to create differently. His commitment to his craft and his passion in what he does is truly inspiring!

John Partipilo's press kit of images

For more information about John Partipilo, be sure to visit his website.

If you missed Episode 1 with Visual Artist Randy L. Purcell, be sure to check that out! Thank you so much for reading! Be sure to sign up for the Learn and Create newsletter to stay a part of this creative tribe!

More great stories are on the way!!

Do you know someone who would make for an interesting interview? Please feel free to reach out via email and social media! I’m always looking to connect.

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Photographer, artist, writer and educator, Sheri Oneal views life as a blank canvas, a story waiting to be told. Her desire is to help others find motivation and purpose through creativity.

4 Comments

  • Karl

    Since 2012 every d Monday of the month the Nashville Creative Group has come together to connect. Together we have built a community of creatives who inspire us, because we share and support one another in our journey as artists.

    • Sheri Oneal

      The Nashville Creative Group is a great group of creative people! I have been a member since it first started in the clubhouse of Beth’s apartment where she used to live in Greenhills. I wanted to interview creatives to share their stories, struggles, and tips so I started this in March in hopes of also supporting my fellow creatives. I wasn’t aware of the Monday gathering but I did go to many of the last, pre-COVID meetings at Emma near the EC. Any interaction to share ideas with other artists is a good thing, thank you for the comment!

  • Neci

    Seeking to make friends in the creative community and to branch out of myself. I enjoy learning new things, being around people who want to engage, learn, have fun, and work hard towards their goals.

    • Sheri Oneal

      I am so happy that you found Learn and Create, Neci, there are many things in the works so I hope you enjoy what we have planned ahead. Be sure to sign up to be a part of the tribe so you will know when there are new things available posted to learn from here! Thank you for the comment!

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