PAYSON As a young boy, John Parkinson looked through the lens of his mother's folding bellows Kodak Autographic 2C camera and fell in love with the world he saw. By age 12, he had built his own light box and was producing black-and-white contact sheets. Photography had become a favorite hobby.
As he was growing up, his parents often took the family on treks through the Rocky Mountains and across the Colorado Plateau, often on day trips from their home in Benjamin, Utah. Parkinson again fell in love with the world he saw. He loved taking pictures of it.
Photography remained a hobby through years of a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, earning a business degree at the University of Utah, marriage and making a living, which he did in the mining industry in Reno, Nev., then back in Payson as a traffic manager, business owner and insurance underwriter.
"I was doing quite well in estate planning and underwriting. Then my oldest daughter got married, and to save money, I did her wedding photos. Soon, the parents of some of her friends were asking me to do their wedding pictures." After a while, he was doing weddings, family reunions and other freelance work.
"I discovered something interesting. In the insurance business, I had to go looking for people. With photography, they came looking for me. That seemed a lot nicer." So Parkinson quit the insurance business and took up photography full time.
That was 35 years ago and he's never regretted it, although "sometimes I felt guilty that I was making a living doing what I loved so much." Today, his work can be found on product labels, including a line of wine, computer screen-savers, calendars, walls and even as the background of a Visa charge card.
He's had several one-man art shows, including ones at the Springville Museum of Art and the Kimball Art Center in Park City. His prints have hung in the Nikon House in New York City's Rockefeller Center and in the corridors of the United States Congress.
Now semiretired, he still does some commercial work. But he has also put together a book that combines his love of photography with his love of nature and with one other love, poetry. "Visual Verse" (Synergy Books, $29.95) combines some of his favorite photos with some of his favorite poems ones he's written himself and others that he's long admired, such as William Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, Lord Alfred Tennyson, William Shakespeare, Robert Service, Joyce Kilmer and others. The book is available in bookstores as well as on his Web site at www.visualverse.com.
"Poetry's something that I've always enjoyed. I could sit here and recite two hours' worth of poems that I memorized while I was traveling in my car in the insurance business."
He sees poetry as a perfect compliment to nature, which he considers "God's art." He was taking a picture of a simple pine tree in front of a mountain peak when he thought about "how so much of nature leads our hearts, our minds, our eye upward. I realized what a natural gift we possess. The idea for a poem came into my mind, and I wrote it down. That was kind of the impetus for the book; that was the first pairing. I wanted to find a way to share this wonder with others."
Then, he says, "I discovered a fancy word, symbiosis, and I realized that's exactly what was going on." Poetry and pictures can enhance each other, support each other, make each stronger than they are alone.
He is, of course, not the first photographer to discover the wonders of the Colorado Plateau. Western landscape photography grew out of the government survey teams that went out to document the West in the 1860s and '70s. Photographers often went along with pounds and pounds of chemicals and fragile glass plates to document the journeys.
They were followed by countless others who sought, and found, inspiration in the rugged Western landscape.
So what does Parkinson look for when he goes in search of pictures? "I look for the absence of someone else's tripod," he jokes. "This region has been photographed and photographed," he continues more seriously, "so I try to find a unique perspective. Sometimes that's the light, sometimes the angle."
And sometimes it's serendipity being in the right place at the right time. "But I like what they say about success that's when luck makes opportunity."
Many times, he says, he's had a preconceived notion of what he was looking for, only to get sidetracked by something else. For example, "one time I was going to takes pictures of a grand ocean landscape, with crashing waves and sweeping vistas. My eye was caught by a little pile of pebbles. And I thought that the grand landscape was really made up of these little rocks, just like humanity is made up of an accumulation of individual people."
Another time, he had gone to Canyonlands and was camping out so he could get pictures in the first light. "But when I woke up, oh, about 5 a.m., I realized it was going to be a heavily overcast day. I started to mope and feel sorry for myself, because I had come all this way for nothing, when I remembered North Six-shooter Peak, which was not too far away. And I thought that if I got in just the right place, the sun might hit it just between the horizon and the clouds. So I quickly drove over by the peak, and boom! The sun hit it just long enough for a great exposure."
Another facet of nature photography he has enjoyed is nighttime work. He has a number of pictures of rock formations with streaking stars circling above. "But each time I used a different technique." Once the time-lapse shot was illuminated by a first-quarter moon, another time he did a double exposure of night and day. He's done exposures with flash and with flashlights. "Night photography has been a lot of fun, and I like to think I'm kind of good at it."People can find their own connections in nature, says Parkinson, but he thinks it is important to stay connected with nature for both spiritual and mental health. "Sometimes, there's so much negativity in the world, people get depressed. "Nature God's art can take you away from that."
If you go
What: John Parkinson book signingComment on this story
Where: Barnes & Noble, 330 E. 1300 South, OremWhen: Saturday, 6-8 p.m.