Photographer John Sexton is a "light writer."
He has the ability to make bold statements and leave lasting impressions with the click of a camera button. He draws feelings and emotions from the environment around him.
For years, he worked with mentor and fellow "light writer" Ansel Adams to develop a photographic style, and Sexton is ready to share some details about that process during a lecture and book-signing on Monday, May 9, at the Center for Creative Photography.
Sexton holds a deep appreciation for black-and-white landscape photography and the darkroom processes that shape his and Adams' famous photos.
"I'd like to emphasize how and why to do things with the photographic process—the 'why' being a much more difficult part," Sexton said.
Sexton plans to peel away the visual layers of his and Adams' work, and to teach audiences how and why certain effects intensify the finished products.
"Because of my association to Adams, I have access to some original negatives that we will be examining," Sexton said. "This sort of instruction, highlighted with imagery onscreen, helps illustrate how exciting photography can be."
Sexton explained that digital cameras and digital editing are changing the shape of photography—not necessarily for better or for worse—but that the possibilities and styles coming from a darkroom will always fuel his passion.
"When you create a photo, and somehow, someone, somewhere in this huge world reacts positively, it is an incredibly rewarding experience," Sexton said. "This is challenging, seductive and magical to me, and much more rewarding than sitting and editing on a big MacBook computer any day."
Traditional photography, as he puts it, stems from a deep respect and understanding of equipment, and from knowing about the subject matter.
For Sexton, that all translates into a simple fact: "A bad day as a photographer is better than a good day at most other things."
With more than 40 years of practice, Sexton has seen the world of photography undergo innumerable changes.
"When I began, photography was struggling to gain recognition as an art form," he said. "Nowadays, for certain reasons, photography lives as an illusion of reality—a relatively abstract tool that helps people feel they are reliving places and times. Working in the darkroom, I get to render dramatic interpretations that make photos the most visual experience they can be."
Although he has not shot very many pictures in the Tucson area, Sexton and his camera are more than familiar with the photographic qualities that make the Southwest a wonderful environment to shoot.
"Arizona and all of the Southwest is so visually rich. No amount of lifetimes could ever explore all the subtlety and beauty of this place," Sexton said. "Growing up in California, my family and I always looked forward to our yearly two-week trip to Yosemite. I learned to love the beauty of that land as well."
When Sexton met Adams in the Yosemite area at a 1963 workshop, Sexton was ecstatic to see Adams' photographic expressions of the place he'd grown to adore.
This love of the land and the wonder of his camera fuel Sexton to this day.
"The ability to be out in the landscape, experiencing it in mind and body, presents a sort of hyper-sensitized appreciation of the surroundings, and is still one of the greatest things I know," he said.
"Photography has given me all kinds of good fortune in my life. I never would have imagined having the chance to work with Adams; it just happened, and I'm so thankful."