John Southern has the gift of vision.  A heightened level of awareness and a keen sense of perception are the tools that allow a person with vision to experience life at a far deeper level than the average person.  Their works are seen as a masterful combination of observation and imagination.  The world respectfully calls these people “creative types.”  Southern most assuredly fits into this classification.

John’s gift made itself known very early when at the age of six he commandeered a family camera and began to explore the process of making images of pets and toy soldiers.  The fascination with creating images only grew through the years.  At age 17, Southern acquired a genuine 35mm single lens reflex camera (an Exacta) from his father and began to elevate his range of skills to new levels.  He claims that the first roll of film he shot with the new camera was “great beginners luck.”  Whether it was luck or talent, it only served to invigorate his motivation.

At age 19, John found himself on an art scholarship at Tulsa Junior College and to this day continues to accept an occasional commission for portraits in pencil and paint.  It was also at age 19 that Southern made the decision to pursue a newspaper photography position with the Tulsa World. 

As he awaited an opportunity to become a news photographer, music became yet another creative outlet.  Southern and a group of local teenagers took their music underground – literally – and held parties in a cavernous storm drain.  The group’s parties gained considerable notoriety, eventually making it to the front page of the Tulsa World, the pages of Time magazine and to the cover of other newspapers as far away as the Philippines.


During this period, John and a next door neighbor, Hooley Benge, began work on a brand new type of musical instrument they named the John Hooley.  The instrument started out as an art project for a 3-D art class. 


After the class, John continued to work on the development of the instrument and consulted with the late Stewart Mossman, a noted guitar builder from Windfield, Kansas.  Mossman helped Southern overcome a stress problem created at the top of the instrument when 1,600 pounds of pressure is created once the strings are tightened to pitch.

In 1977, after two years of relentless pestering, the Tulsa World called and offered Southern a full-time job as an artist/photographer.  As a photographer for the World, John learned how to photograph a broad range of subject matter.  During his tenure with the paper, Southern added to his skill package by refining his film developing and darkroom techniques as well as perfecting the art of posing and lighting photographic subjects. 


Just a year later in 1978, Southern took a famous photo of Eric Clapton in Tulsa’s jail.  He then called the mother of a friend to help get Clapton out.  The photo went worldwide the next morning.  John’s effort and dedication were rewarded in 1981 when he won two Associated Press awards for Spot News and Feature Photography.

After working for the newspaper, Southern spent a period of time with an ad agency.  When the agency was bought out, John made the decision to launch his freelance career. 

Interested in pushing his limits and testing his photographic skills, Southern entered local and regional photo contests.

  • In 1989, John won 1st and 3rd place in Light Up Tulsa, a contest to photograph the skyline.  With over 500 entries, Southern received two of the top places in two different categories in blind judging.


  • Southern placed 1st, 3rd and honorable mention in the Light Up Bartlesville contest also in 1989.

  • Southern placed 3rd in the Light Up Muskogee contest.

Since starting his freelance career, Southern has taught photography at Tulsa Community College and taught music, art and speech to at risk elementary schools in the Tulsa area.  John continues to perform his music on a regular basis at over 20 retirement centers, nursing homes and hospitals. Southern is available for concert and party bookings as well. He is a writer and luthier and created seven prototype guitars called the Lyrics. 


Southern continues to be a professional musician and photographer spending his considerable creative talent on a wide spectrum of projects.  John recently began work on a television show called Talkin’ Guitars and is a regular writing contributor to Premier Guitar, a national publication dedicated to the guitarist as a whole.