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National Geographic Leadership

Chris Johns

Executive Director, Centers of Excellence

Picture of Chris Johns

Photograph by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

As Executive Director of the Centers of Excellence, Chris Johns leads the National Geographic Society’s mission to make a distinctive impact as a leader in photography, mapping, and journalism. In his previous role as chief content officer, Johns oversaw the expression of National Geographic’s editorial content across various media platforms. Johns served as editor in chief of National Geographic magazine from January 2005 to April 2014, the ninth editor of the magazine since its founding in 1888. During his editorship, Johns’ editorial focus on excellence in photography, cartography, and reporting was recognized with 63 National Magazine Award nominations from the American Society of Magazine Editors that resulted in 23 awards.

Born in Medford, Oregon, Johns began his career in photojournalism when he joined the Topeka Capital-Journal as a staff photographer in 1975; in 1979 he was named National Newspaper Photographer of the Year. In 1983, after three years with the Seattle Times as picture editor and special projects photographer, he embarked on a freelance career and worked for Life, Time, and National Geographic magazines.

Johns became a National Geographic contract photographer in 1985 and joined the magazine staff in 1995. Before taking over as editor in chief, Johns served as senior editor for illustrations and as associate editor. As a photographer, he produced more than 20 articles for National Geographic, eight of which were cover stories. His defining images are of Africa and its wildlife. He has taken readers down the Zambezi River, examined the Bushmen’s ongoing struggle for cultural survival, and provided important documentation of Africa’s endangered wildlife. He was named one of the world’s 25 most important photographers by American Photo magazine in 2003.

Johns’ books include Valley of Life: Africa’s Great Rift (1991), Hawaii’s Hidden Treasures (1993), and Wild at Heart: Man and Beast in Southern Africa (2002). He wrote the foreword for In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits (2004) and the introduction to the National Geographic book 100 Days in Photographs: Pivotal Events That Changed the World (October 2007).

Johns was awarded an honorary doctorate from Indiana University in 2010. He studied photography at the University of Minnesota and holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism with a minor in agriculture from Oregon State University.