John Varley

Photographer

Beloved photographer John Varley's (1934-2010) portfolio includes memorable images of royalty, politicians, music artists, and show business stars. Highly decorated, Varley won a World Press Photo Award in 1979 for a shot of globally renowned sculptor Henry Moore and his images of the Beatles, Pele and countless others are collected worldwide.

Camera of Choice

  • Nikon F

John Varley (1934-2010) took some of the most iconic images of the late 20th century. His most famous shot – of Pelé and Bobby Moore at the 1970 FIFA World Cup – is one of the most celebrated sports photographs of all time.

While Varley loved covering sports – especially soccer – his portfolio also includes memorable shots of royalty, politicians and show business stars. Highly decorated, Varley won a World Press Photo Award in 1979 for a shot of globally renowned sculptor Henry Moore.

Varley’s work lives on through the John Varley Signature Collection, which was launched by his grandson, James Varley, in 2016. The collection includes images from five FIFA World Cups, war zones in Nigeria and Northern Ireland, royalty such as Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana, and sports stars like Muhammad Ali. He also shot famous photos of The Beatles, Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

Varley was born in Doncaster, England, in 1934. A chance encounter with a local photographer set him on his career path. Varley said he would only be photographed with his dog, which the photographer agreed to. The next day, Varley was presented with the image and was so amazed with the picture that he decided there and then he would be a photographer.

After a stint working in a darkroom with a local newspaper, Varley began working with East-Mid News Agency. In 1958, his photograph of a police officer carrying a baby to safety while waist-high in flood water, brought him national attention. A role with the Daily Mirror newspaper – at that point the best-selling newspaper in Britain with more than 5 million daily readers – soon followed.

During the 1960s, Varley covered The Beatles concerts, attended the second Muhammad Ali versus Henry Cooper fight in London and was present when England won the FIFA World Cup on home soil in 1966. He was one of a very small number of photographers taking color pictures during English soccer’s finest hour.

Varley loved soccer so much that he took a month-long sabbatical from work every four years to cover the World Cup. And his passion for the sport paid off handsomely when he took his career-defining image of Pelé and Moore in 1970 in Mexico. During a BBC documentary, Pelé commented, “That photo has gone around the world. I think it was very important for football. We demonstrate that it’s a sport. Win or lose, the example, the friendship, you must pass these on to other players, to the next generation.” The photo was also, reportedly, Moore’s favorite image of himself.

Varley also took hundreds of pictures of the British royal family. He attended the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, the launch of the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise liner and the wedding of Prince Andrew to Sarah Ferguson. His portfolio includes memorable images of a host of royal figures, notably Diana, Princess of Wales.

At arguably the peak of his career, in 1979, Varley won a World Press Photo Award. The winning shot of British sculptor Henry Moore surrounded by his creations during an exhibition to mark his 80th birthday took a lot of organising. There were throngs of people at the event and Varley had to clear them all out of the way to get the picture he desired: of only Moore and his work. The result is dramatic. Moore, with his walking stick in tow, blends into the exhibition and could almost be mistaken for one of his creations. It was exactly the shot Varley desired and deservedly won him a famous Golden Eye trophy.

Many of the thousands of photographs Varley took were simply gathering dust in his home darkroom until 2016, when they were rediscovered and restored by his family. Following restoration, Varley’s grandson, James, had one simple goal: to share this amazing body of work with the world and secure the legacy of his grandfather’s incredible talent. He subsequently launched Varley Photos in 2016, which is now known as Varley Media and the home of the John Varley Signature Collection.

And just five years after restoring hundreds of iconic images, Varley Media has entered into an exciting collaboration with Cheeze, Inc. As a Cheeze Original, Varley Media will soon be offering people around the world the chance to own these iconic images as NFTs.