J. B. Colson began his study and practice of photography as a high school freshman. At Ohio University he studied under the direction of Clarence White for his BFA in photography. After serving as a Signal Corps photographer doing news and documentary photography in Central America, he finished graduate studies in documentary film at UCLA.
He made non-theatrical films in the Detroit area before teaching at the University of Texas, where he inaugurated an accredited program in photojournalism. For over twenty years he headed the program with students at the Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. levels. Students of the prog