John Byrne Cooke was born and raised in New York City. Like many other American kids of his generation, John's first camera was a Kodak Brownie box camera - the granddaddy of the point-and-shoots. He shot cars, trains, members of his family, anything that caught his eye.
John's serious study of photography began at the Putney School in Putney, Vermont, a boarding prep school that was co-ed and progressive ahead of its time, strong in the arts then and now. While at Putney, inspired by other students who were already playing and singing folk songs, John learned to play the guitar. When he arrived at Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the folk boom was just beginning. Bohemians had become beatniks. Joan Baez was performing twice a week at a Cambridge coffeehouse called the Club 47 Mount Auburn, for twenty dollars a night. Before long, folk music supplanted jazz at the Club 47 and other coffeehouses across the nation. While still a student at Harvard, John became a member of the Harvard-born old-time and bluegrass band, the Charles River Valley Boys. As a musician and photographer, he was inside the musical counterculture from the start.
After college, John played music full time and took photographs from Cambridge to California and Paris to Tangier. When folk music was replaced in the counterculture's affections by rock and roll, a fortuitous chain of opportunities brought John to San Francisco to road manage Big Brother and The Holding Company. When Janis Joplin left Big Brother a year later, she asked John to stay with her. John worked with Janis until her death in October 1970.
Top row: The Staple Singers At Newport Folk Festival (1964), Pete Seeger At Newport Folk Festival (1963), Janis Joplin (1969)
Bottom row: Bob Dylan (1964), Peter, Paul & Mary At Newport Folk Festival (1963), Mississippi John Hurt At Newport Folk Festival (1964)
all photos ©John Byrne Cooke, LLC