Everyday Visionary :: John Holbrook – ZerModus

Everyday Visionary :: John Holbrook

The Collaborative No. 9

Today we are featuring Everyday Visionary John Holbrook. His work as a juvenile probation officer and PI are overshadowed by his work as a human rights advocate. This is not what he leads with when you ask him, "What do you do?", but it is something that is bigger than a vocation.

John's art is a journey of forgiveness. After years of serving as a private investigator on capitol murder cases, a very horrific double homicide of two teenagers created a catalyst for change in the artist. He was becoming anxious with symptoms of PTSD and he sought help.

His path of healing led him straight to death row and advocating not just for the people who are held there, but the living victims of the crimes. To be very clear, he does not believe that all of these death row inmates are innocent or even nice people.  His goal is to show the humanity in everyone, which is a very tall order for those labeled as monsters. It would seem counterintuitive to photograph death row inmates in poses normally held by saints, but it is the jarring nature of the images that can shake us loose from old ideas and beliefs.

John's photographs are evidence of a mission to change and open dialogue about the death penalty. He hopes that people will learn what he learned by communicating the truth through his art. There is an old proverb, "Holding onto anger is like eating poison and expecting the other person to die".   John says, “The only way we can truly stop suffering is to love and forgive those who have caused the suffering.” The artist is not just asking us to let go, but to find it in ourselves to see the person as a human rather than view them as their actions.

 John Holbrook's death row photography has been displayed all over the world including Amnesty International shows in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Italy and Spain. You can also view his work on holbrookphoto.com.


The Questionnaire

  1. Where do you currently work?

Tarrant County

  1. What is your current role?

Juvenile probation officer 

  1. How would you describe to a child what you do for a living?

I save the lives of men on death row by taking their pictures. Allow me to be very clear about what I have done with my photographs of death row inmates. I've made them look like saints.   This makes the people who look at my pictures, very angry and that is deliberate.   It is within this anger that a dialogue is forced about the death penalty.  I am certain that people who are for the death penalty have very simply, not thought about it enough and it is the objective of my art to make them think about it.  This process comes very much at my expense and that's the 'cross I am willing the bare'.   I have to do it.

  1. What do you hope you have a reputation for as a professional?


  1. What is an accomplishment from your career that meant the world to you?

Edie Brickell and Steve Martin wrote a song about me called 'Fighter'

  1. What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve had to learn the hard way in your career?

I've learned the lesson that it's not about me.

  1. What are some of your go-to sources of inspiration and staying on top of emerging trends that impact your field or industry?

The writing of Ghandi 

  1. What is something you need in your work environment in order to   thrive in your role?


  1. What you envision for your customers/clients/stakeholders/ patients/citizens/students, etc.?

Eternal life

  1. What is one of the biggest challenges you are facing or trying to solve right now?

Saving the lives of the twelve death row inmates that I photographed 

  1. When and where do you tend to get your ideas?


  1. What are three of your favorite books?
  • Bible
  • The Word of Ghandi
  • all Hunter S. Thompson stuff
  1. What’s one of your favorite non-profits?

Journey of Hope, Innocence Project , the other victims advocacy 

  1. If you could collaborate with any group or individual in the world, who would be your top three picks?
  • Jesus
  • MLK
  • Ghandi
  1. What does your creative process entail when you're doing what you do best?

Making people talk about the death penalty 

  1. If you were invited to give a TED Talk (or have given one), what would you speak about?

Ending the death penalty

  1. How do you unwind at the end of a stressful day?


  1. What do you think your 80-year-old self would tell you right now?

Don't Worry

  1. What do you think your 10-year-old self would be most impressed with about your life right now?

I'm not dead yet.

  1. If there were more hours in the days, what would you do with them?

Spend time with my kids

  1. Is there anything particularly compelling that you want us to know that we didn't ask?

There is a light house in the arctic circle that has my death row images on permanent display.   The lost souls of the northern lights see my pictures and reason " if someone can forgive this person , then I can forgive my debtor" and upon that reasoning, the lost souls are received into the light  of heaven.

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