2019 marks the 100th anniversary of The Grand Canyon’s designation as a National Park, but for Arizona resident and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Jack Dykinga, that’s not the only milestone to celebrate this year. For Dykinga, this summer also marks the 5th anniversary of his life-saving double lung transplant. Both occasions are being celebrated in the summer-long exhibition Jack Dykinga: The Grand Canyon National Park (1919-2019) at Tucson, Arizona’s Etherton Gallery.
The Grand Canyon has played a significant role in Jack Dykinga’s life over the years. Following his initial diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2010, he continued unabated on hikes and photo excursions, not only at the Grand Canyon but all over the world. For the first few years, his illness was a consideration predominantly at higher altitudes, but by 2014, his condition had worsened dramatically. While on a rafting trip on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Dykinga had to be rushed to the hospital. Not long after, a double lung transplant represented a renewal not only for his health but for his long and celebrated photography career.
According to Terry Etherton, owner and curator of Etherton Gallery, both anniversaries were major considerations when planning this summer’s exhibition. “We’ve worked with Jack for a long time. We’ve done many shows together, but none since his transplant in 2014.” When the anniversary of the Grand Canyon rolled around, it made total sense to feature Dykinga as the central artist of the show. Through a variety of images, from vast landscapes to more abstract views featuring the often overlooked details for which Dykinga’s photography is known, Etherton crafted a succinct yet representative collection of photographs to celebrate The Grand Canyon's hundredth year.
Perched at the top of a tall set of stairs, the space at Etherton Gallery is bright and open, consisting of one large room and several smaller halls and areas, allowing each show to explore not just one photographer’s body of work, but more nuanced subject matter as represented by multiple artists. The Grand Canyon exhibition features Dykinga’s work as the centerpiece with supporting historical images of the National Park by Ansel Adams, William H. Bell, Lee Friedlander, and others. In the gallery’s 39-year tenure, most exhibitions have been designed in a similar format, often pairing more established photographers with newer emerging artists as a way of introducing the art-world to up and coming artists who have created their own spin on old techniques.
Despite the abundance of digital photography on the market, Etherton says he has seen a reinvigoration of older analog photographic methods. As a gallerist, he tends to be drawn to young artists who set themselves apart by finding new uses for daguerreotypes, contact prints, and tintypes. Artists like Kate Breakey with her hand colored and gold-leaf backed images, or David Emmett Adams, who develops images of industrial sites directly onto 50 gallon drum lids via tintype are creating works that Etherton finds new and profoundly interesting. Christopher Colville, an artist who works with expired silver photo paper and facilitates a controlled burn with gunpowder, creates one of a kind pieces with no camera involved. His techniques are very experimental with a high degree of failure, but for Etherton, they indicate an exciting counter-culture within contemporary photography. These and other artists are slowing down in reaction to the hyper speed and immediacy of digital photography. They are making the method an intentional part of the art itself.
In the past five or ten years, Etherton has observed certain patterns emerging as he performs portfolio reviews. “Younger photographers like deeply personal environmental images — beautiful pictures of horrible things. Those images are important and really sincere, but as a gallerist it's hard to sell horrible things,” and commercial galleries exist off the works they are able to sell.
“Jack is the best of both worlds, he’s serious, he’s very good at what he does, and he’s commercially acceptable. He offers a little bit of everything and the images are beautiful,” Etherton explains.
After years working as a photographer for The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Arizona Daily Star, Jack pivoted from depicting important stories about the human condition to sobering stories about conservation. A founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, he still considers himself a photojournalist. Dykinga constantly creates new powerful images in response to ecological and legislative threats to help support and save fragile environments — a pursuit that he views as even more important in the current political climate.
When looking at Dykinga’s beautifully saturate landscapes it's impossible to overlook the unusual path he took in order to become a landscape photographer. His articulate and nuanced photographs carry a certain energy and power with their vast depth of field and carefully crafted sense of place. He does so much more than create postcard style images — he tells rich stories. Etherton describes this capability perfectly:
When I look at Jack’s work for National Geographic, or Arizona Highways, I ask myself how is Jack’s work different from what’s out there. It's his own personal story of what an incredible survivor he’s been. Jack’s always been a survivor and his work focuses on how things survive in harsh environments. I can always pick out a Dykinga photo because his point of view is different, an inward looking outward sort of thing. As a photographer, he’s a cut above. The pictures are less predictable. I think it's because he didn’t come out of a nature photography background. He’s a photojournalist. He brought that sensibility with him from tough stories about people to important stories about nature.
The exhibition Jack Dykinga: The Grand Canyon National Park (1919-2019) runs from June 18th to September 14th at The Etherton Gallery in Tucson, Arizona (though the gallery will be closed from June 30th to July 8th). Visitor information can be found on their website at https://ethertongallery.com/.
All images courtesy of, and used with the permission of, Etherton Gallery.