John Cleave was born in 1931 and was educated at the universities of London and Oxford where he studied economics. After his National Service he entered the British Colonial Service as an Administrative Officer and was Assistant District Commissioner for Karamoja District, Uganda from 1955 - 1960. In 1958 he married Jennifer Skidmore and they had two children, Roger and Karen.
When John Cleave left the British Colonial Service in 1967 he began a PhD at Stanford University in the USA. He was subsequently recruited into the World Bank in Washington DC and worked as an agricultural economist for over 20 years on development projects in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific. In 1974 he published 'African Farmer', which was cited as the authoritative volume on labour use in African agriculture (Anthropology of Development and Change in East Africa, ed. David W Brokenshaw). John married Laura Bally in 1983.
On retirement, he devoted himself to photography, becoming President of the International Camera Club and publishing his work in numerous books and journals. He served as a Trustee of the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece for over 15 years. He died on March 14, 2020, aged 88.