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An Afternoon With Jack Dykinga…Sort Of

January 13, 2010

Superstition Mountains and Wildflowers

I was digging through my hard drive when I came across this image of the wildflower bloom in Lost Dutchman State Park outside Phoenix, Arizona.  Those imposing peaks are the Superstition Mountains.  This was photographed on Velvia 50 film waaaaaay back in 2000 or 2001.  Jack Dykinga was about 15′ to my right with a big wooden contraption called a large format camera mounted on a tripod.  When I replay the moment in my head I imagine that Jack and I were good friends out for an evening shoot.  In reality I was just an annoying, star struck kid who wouldn’t shut the hell up.  Still, Jack was very gracious and never once made me feel stupid for gabbing on and on about whatever random crap came out of my mouth.  I should probably confess here and now that despite the title Jack Dykinga does not play a large part in this story.  In fact, his part of the story ends here.  Sorry for suckering you in like that.  Actually, I’m not sorry at all.  Now that you’re here you might as well keep reading, right?

This was one of the first images I made that wasn’t an utter disappointment on the light table.  I remember being thrilled when I picked up my slides from the lab and saw this among the collection.  Finally, I was ready to go pro!

Sitting here now, almost ten years later, I look at the image and see at least half a dozen things wrong.  I see all the things I would do different.  I see featureless black shadows, giant chunks of grain and a poorly executed attempt at hyperfocal focus.  What I see hurts my eyes.  And then I sit back in my chair and I see this image for what it is – an image created by an eager new photographer using the best equipment he could afford in a spectacular environment with his good buddy Jack Dykinga standing next to him.  Okay, that last part isn’t true at all but you get the idea.

Cameras evolve, lenses evolve, Photoshop evolves and we evolve.  Our styles and tastes change.  Images that made us squeal with excitement 10 years ago make us cringe today.  But those images are still valuable and they have earned a rightful place in our photo collections.  We may not post them for sale on our sites or include them in a magazine submission but they are part of who we are.  Those images helped shape us into the photographers we’ve become.  Just like the mullet we wore in high school, these images may not be a part of our past we want everyone to know about but they are still in our DNA.  I say, let’s celebrate them!

Got an old photo that once made you proud but now makes you the opposite of proud, whatever that is?  Post a comment with a link to it!  Or feel free to post a comment about how I misled you with the title and you thought this was going to be a casual interview full of insight from The Man himself, Jack Dykinga.  All thoughts and comments are welcome!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2010 8:53 am

    You definitely suckered me in. Jack’s work is really amazing. I first met him back in 2000 when I bought my 1st 4×5 camera (Wisner Traditional). I had no clue how to use the thing and he was extremely helpful to me at the annual view camera conference in Albuquerque. I still use the techniques he explained on how to properly meter transparency film in the field. His book on Large Format Nature Photography is outstanding. Jacks website –>

    • January 13, 2010 9:37 am

      Jack is one of the most talented photographers working today, IMHO. His Arizona work is especially impressive. I was excited to meet him & even more excited that he’s got no ego. Super nice guy. Thanks for commenting & linking to Jack’s site, Rich.

  2. January 13, 2010 9:22 am

    Funny, just last week I created a new blog category called “From the Vault” where I’ll do this very same thing, but since my scanner is busted, don’t have anything up yet. Just so you know – I’m NOT a copycat – we must just think along the same lines 😉

    Yeah, this photo isn’t up to par with your current work, but as you said, your past work is a foundation and I see your style even in this early work with the strong FG elements and great light.

    Care to post your mullet shot for our amusement? I promise not to laugh – too hard 😉

    • January 13, 2010 9:32 am

      I’m 100% sure all those mullet photos have been destroyed. :-). Get that scanner fixed so we can see some old skool images.

  3. January 13, 2010 9:32 am

    I’m a sucker as well…but I -do- expect you to interview Tom Till some time! 🙂

    I’ve also made vast improvements through the years, but I don’t plan to embarrass myself by displaying older images!

    I recently had a good friend lament they didn’t feel their work was any good (in comparison with other photographers) and I responded to that fear in one of the discussions in my Facebook page:

    The main point being that we are all traveling on different paths as far as growth photographically and, while it’s helpful to make comparisons with others to help improve, it’s not productive to simply give up because there are so many other “better” photographers out there.

  4. January 13, 2010 9:41 am

    Great comment, Ken. It can be easy to get discouraged with so many uber-talented photographers working today. My philosophy: photograph because you love it. Who cares if so and so is better. Just enjoy yourself!

  5. January 13, 2010 10:34 am


    Good stuff – the stuff of our photography and its development is all about looking through the archives and remembering the special times had in the field.

    Ken – embarrass yourself with older images? I sure hope not!

    I had a similar experience while on Cedar Mesa back in 2003. My friend and I had just arrived at a trailhead when out of nowhere two vans pull in next to us. When I realized it was a workshop run by John Sexton I knew we weren’t going down that trail. He was nice enough to let us know where he was going to be so we wouldn’t disturb his group, which I thought was a professional gesture. That moment of silence after the group had made their way into the canyon was an epiphany; that we were among some of the most incredible ruins, but also seeking out the same photographic subjects as Sexton (and we were there before him :))

    Sometimes life works in mysterious ways.

    • January 13, 2010 11:12 am

      Thanks for sharing your story about running into John Sexton on Cedar Mesa. Very cool! It is indeed a small world. You hit the nail on the head in your first statement. I thoroughly enjoy reliving past trips and experiences while thumbing through pages of slides or digging through my hard drive. It’s all about the journey.

  6. January 13, 2010 11:13 am

    Brett, I’d like to tell you about the time in 1976 that my photo class took a field trip to Point Lobos and ran into my good buddy, (well, my instructor’s father’s good buddy) Ansel Adams. We were trying to shoot fine art and he was testing a soon to be released Polaroid Pronto. Much like your story, I imagine in my mind that I was on a shooting trip with Ansel.

    • January 13, 2010 11:23 am

      Holy crap, this is awesome! I get the chills standing in the same spots as Ansel (i.e. Snake River Overlook). What a cool experience, Bill. Thanks for sharing it!

  7. January 13, 2010 11:59 am

    Hey Bret – Thought provoking post that I certainly can agree with, but I have a little bit of a different outlook. Sure, I have images going back many, many years that well, should be toss in the can. But those images were garbage and learning lessons back then and honestly I don’t learn anything now by looking at those images. What I learned, I learned at the time of reviewing those images, grew and moved on. However, the images that moved me back then that I treasured at the time, I still treasure and am still proud of. So if it made me proud back then, I’m still proud of it today. If it was garbage then, it’s still garbage today.

    Thanks for making me think on this..

    • January 13, 2010 12:25 pm

      Wow Lon, that is really an excellent counterpoint. I really hadn’t thought about this in those terms. Thank you for making me do a little thinking, too!

  8. January 13, 2010 10:09 pm

    Really enjoyed the article. It kind of reminds me of conversations with my girlfriend about my older photos-

    “I like this one”

    “Nah- it’s overxposed!”

    “How about this one?”

    “No no- that branch is distracting!…”

    I’ll extend the conversation about “pain” in a different direction. This photo is one of my most viewed photos on my site:

    It kills me that I can’t print it large because it was shot with a 2 megapixel camera. I’ve got a couple of others like that that I love but there’s not a lot that I can do with. You can always reshoot but odds are you won’t be able to experience the same light/weather etc..

    • January 13, 2010 10:11 pm

      Hmm. Wouldn’t let me insert the image inline with my comments. My photo link:

    • January 13, 2010 10:17 pm

      It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one so critical of my images! I can’t tell you how many times my wife has said, “You’re the only person who is ever going to notice that!” Thanks for linking to the image, too. Such a cool photo and I can certainly see why you’d be bummed that it’s only a 2 megapixel file. Ouch!

  9. January 14, 2010 10:09 am

    This is a great post, Bret! I recently put a folder on my desktop full of old scans that I’d like to revisit. However, every time I look at them, even though they bring back good memories, I realize how much I’ve evolved.

    Here’s one of my most recently visited:


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