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John Briggs was born in 1947 in St Paul, Minnesota. He came to Wales in the 1960s to study at Atlantic College in the Vale of Glamorgan, where an increasing passion for photography resulted in his first street images of Cardiff. He gained a degree in French at the University of Minnesota, also working as a part-time reporter. In 1947, returning to Wales to do teacher traning at University College, Cardiff, he began systematically photographing the city's disppearing docklands.