John Vachon was born in St-Paul, Minnesota, on 19th May 1914. After graduating from Cretin High School he studied at the University of St. Thomas. He graduated in 1934 and managed to find work as a filing clerk for the Farm Security Administration.
In 1936 Roy Stryker recruited him to join a small group of photographers working for the FSA. This group included Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Charlotte Brooks, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn. These photographers were employed to publicize the conditions of the rural poor in America.
During the Second World War he worked as a photographer for the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. (1942-1943). He was also employed by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
In 1947 Vachon became a staff photographer for Life Magazine. This was followed by employment with Look Magazine (1949-1971). After the closure of this magazine he became a freelance photographer and a visiting lecturer at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
John Vachon died in New York on 20th April 1975.
The misery which the slaves endure in consequence of too close a stowage is not easy to describe. I have heard them frequently complaining of heat, and have seen them fainting, almost dying for want of water. Their situation is worse in rainy weather. We do everything for them in our power. In all the vessels in which I have sailed in the slave trade, we never covered the gratings with a tarpawling, but made a tarpawling awning over the booms, but some were still panting for breath.