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Follow the Light

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Puffy white clouds race over South Window in Arches National Park. (c) 2010 Tom Kelly

It was a stormy Thursday in Moab. Photographer Jack Dykinga referred to it as the kind of day when you’re going to get your greatest shots or no shots at all. In Arches today, we went from selective blue skies to raging sleet and snow within minutes. Such is life in the desert.

The Moab Photo Symposium kicked off today with a keynote from Dykinga who was inspirational in telling us to personalize the place and photograph what we felt. His slides told a story of what each one meant to him at that particular time.

I have a special connection, of sorts, to Dykinga. While I was a fledgling young newspaper photographer in Madison, WI in the early ’70s, he was winning the 1971 Pulitzer for feature photography while at the Chicago Sun-Times. He led his presentation with poignant black and white images showing gripping scenes inside mental hospitals in Illinois.

As a newspaper photographer, his images brought change. Nearly 40 years later, he is still bringing change – making us all more aware of our planet’s majestic beauty through his still photographs.

I never set out to advocate change as a newspaper photographer – just to take good pictures. I relished every assignment. My pictures told a story. And while sports was my forte, the two most vivid memories of photographs I have were quite different. One was a deputy fire chief standing in the burned out doorway of a home where several children died – an intensely sad look on his face. The other was the huge smile of an eight-year-old cancer victim as he walked around with his IV. I’ve always wondered if he made it.

Dykinga gave up the news gig to tell a different story, moving west and focusing on a different type of social consciousness. He’s made his mark as one of the world’s foremost landscape photographers, forsaking his Nikon F’s and hauling heavy view cameras and tripods to tell the world’s story.

A few months ago, Dykinga and some fellow photographers went to Patagonia in Chile on their own dime to document an amazing Rio Baker river valley that was in jeopardy of being dammed and submerged – remnants of the Pinochet era. His pictures told the story.

Today in Arches was one of those days where you just knew the light wouldn’t bless you. “Follow the light,” said Dykinga. Sometimes you have only a fleeting second. That’s the kind of day it was. One minute was low overcast around North and South Windows. The next minute the sky erupted in blue. A few minutes later, snow pellets were pounding the desert sand.

The beauty of photography is that time stands still. It’s an accurate reflection of that particular moment in time. It’s about that place, that time, that light and color.

Best of all, it’s a story to share.

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Weather wood rests in the desert sand in Arches National Park. (c) 2010 Tom Kelly

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A storm moves through the desert in Arches National Park. (c) 2010 Tom Kelly