Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, John Vachon received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from St. Thomas College at age twenty, followed by further studies at the Catholic University of America (1935–36). After being hired as an assistant messenger with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937, Vachon quickly developed his own photographic skills. He became a member of the FSA’s regular photographic staff and produced memorable documentary series in the Plains states. After moving to New York, Vachon in 1947 became a member of the Photo League, contributing numerous book reviews to the newsletter Photo Notes and participating in the 1948 exhibition This Is the Photo League. After working for many years as a staff photographer at Look magazine, Vachon became a visiting professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1974.