April, 2015 Edition

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"Mini Wave"

Talking About Photography with Jackson Bridges

March started off on the tail end of a dying winter storm that dumped cold rain and wet snow all over the canyon lands of northern Arizona and southern Utah. And we knew this last blast of moisture would load the blooms of Spring that will eventually wrap the landscape like a Navajo blanket.
Jackson Bridges has been zooming in on the seasons through the viewfinder of his camera in Page, Arizona for 20 years.
“I came here on vacation and never left,” Jackson will tell you about his move to Page.
At 77 years old, Jackson is exactly twice my age. His photography hangs on the walls of Page’s restaurants, banks, doctors’ offices, and hotels – you have probably already seen his photos. They were the ones with the little gold signature on the bottom right. They were the ones that stopped you in your tracks and had you talking to yourself out loud.
For the last three years I have been going along with Jackson as he chases down the sunsets, full moons, and high-desert weather events that cover the sandstone and canyons of the area.
He called me up the day before March’s “Mini Moon,” which was the smallest full moon of the year and said, “Come on over tonight, I have something I want to show you.”
So after work, I drove over to Jackson’s place. His wife, Linda, greeted me at the door and said Jackson would be back shortly. She was baking peanut butter cookies and the two of us had some wonderful small town, small talk.
“Jack has really been overdoing it lately,” she said. “Have you seen his new haircut?”
Jackson recently stumbled across a vantage point of nature between the gaps of development that has been hiding in plain sight along the borders of Page, and he spent the last two afternoons checking it out until the sun set.
He’s been flirting with photography ever since he was a boy, and that same young romance is still burning inside him. I have seen him get so excited about the photograph he is about to take that he starts to drool. He blames it on the medication he takes to keep his Parkinson’s at bay, but I think it’s the curious boy inside who first fell in love with photography that’s behind it.
It was dark when Jackson walked in the door, and Linda’s whole body relaxed under his safe return.
“Hey, man. Long time, no see,” he said in between yawns.
“That’s quite the haircut,” I said.
He pulled his cameras out of the little red backpack he brings on every adventure and started showing me some of the shots he brought home from his new spot.
He was noticeably exhausted from his outing as he scrolled the photos through the display windows on his camera.
“Pick me up tomorrow and I’ll take you out there. It’s only five minutes from here,” he said.
When I pulled up to his driveway that next day, Jackson was looking for his sunglasses in his car.
“Hey, look at that,” he said. “I just found my other camera and didn’t even know I had lost it.”
We drove down Lake Powell Boulevard, crossed the 89, and onto Scenic View Drive. Just as the road began to curve left, Jackson told me to pull off to the right. Jackson put on his backpack and pulled his walking stick out of the car – it was made from the stalk of a yucca, and the leather handle was well oiled from the sweat of countless adventures.
“You have to be careful and make sure you don’t catch a heel on the sandstone. That could be nasty. I used to bounce around rocks like this. Not anymore,” he said.
His steps were slow and calculated.
“Whoa, I almost stepped on that cactus. You know what? I’m one mellow dude. I don’t get mad. At my age, what am I going to do? I’m not Superman,” he said.
As we walked towards the canyon’s edge, on the business end of Glen Canyon Dam, Jackson said, “People come to Page for Lake Powell, Antelope Slot Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend. Nobody thinks about a place like this. You don’t need a permit, but one slip and…”
The hum of the dam and the crackle of power flowing through the lines above became more and more audible as we approached the canyon’s 800-foot drop into the Colorado River.
“You can’t be in a hurry. It’s too long of a fall to be in a hurry. This place is cool, man. This could be good, not many clouds, but plenty of shadows,” he said as he braced himself on a wall of sandstone and shuffled his way to the edge.
“I don’t care how I look. I’m safe,” he

For the last three years I have been going along with Jackson as he chases down the sunsets, full moons, and high-desert weather events that cover the sandstone and canyons of the area.

said as he inched closer and closer. “I don’t know if I would pinpoint where this is for other people. If you get a bunch of people here, somebody is going to fall. When you walk around the desert, you really have to watch your step. But I will never give this up,” he said as he took his camera out of his bag.
“I’m 77. I haven’t missed a thing. Well, nothing of real importance. Anyway, you know what’s over that ridge?” he asked while pointing towards the mesa the city of Page rests upon. “It’s the loneliest town of 7,500 people ever,” he said under a boyish laugh. “Page has been the most wonderful adventure of my life. It’s a mellow, mellow town. Lord have mercy on our souls.”
As slow as Jackson navigates the unruly sandstone of Page, he’s like a bighorn sheep that studied ballet. Graceful.
He plants his walking stick firmly and lifts one leg up to the next sandstone step. He counts to three and takes the next step and then repeats the process.
“God gave me this gift. I’ll see a shot at 60 mph, stop the car and put it in reverse. I’m not a technical photographer. I’m concerned about composition more than anything else. Here, come check this out. It’s a mini Wave,” Jackson said.
Right there, hiding on the outskirts of Page, was a sandstone formation that curled around itself like the infamous Wave. Hundreds of people line up at the Bureau of Land Management’s office in Kanab, Utah to enter the lottery, hoping to win a permit during the daily drawing for the Wave. The BLM only hands out 10 walk-in permits a day, and you’re more likely to find a $100 bill blowing down Lake Powell Blvd. than you are at winning the Wave lottery.
The hike up to Jackson’s “Mini Wave” from the canyon’s edge is a bit of a scramble no matter how old you are, and when we reached it, Jackson said, “How ‘bout that? Slow, but I did it. And when it’s time to rest, it’s time to rest.”
Jackson and I sat down on a sandstone shelf and he started taking his pulse at his neck. Being a first responder I took his radial pulse at his wrist.
“143?” Jackson said laughing. His beats per minute were 88, regular and strong.
“I probably told you this before…” he said and then paused for a moment. “I forgot what I was going to say. I do this, too. I don’t get embarrassed anymore. I’ll get this brilliant thought, and then it’s gone. Anyway, I love this stuff, you know, photography. By the way, look to the left at the ridgeline. Those bushes are glowing.”
The sun was low and setting. The color of the sandstone was on fire.
“That’s what I do. I just put it in another gear when I forget what I was going to say,” Jackson continued.
Jackson then started talking about image processing software like Photoshop and Lightroom. And even though these programs are a young person’s game, he began to school me with techniques that photographers can use by utilizing postproduction software.
“It’s not just the camera. It’s the guy holding the camera, and he is going to have to take some chances. I do it my way. If I get it, I get it,” he said.
Jackson is a Nikon guy. One of his cameras is a $479 bundle including the lens.
“It’s not expensive. I don’t need those fancy cameras,” he said.
Jackson bounced around the “Mini Wave” and took some shots like a little kid waiting for Christmas. He would point out colors and light anomalies that most people would walk right by.
“A kid once asked me what she should be taking pictures of. I told her, ‘One word: Everything.’ If it doesn’t come out, then snap another one. There’s all kinds of rules in Photography, like the Rule of Thirds. There aren’t any rules, though. Those are merely suggestions. The most important thing in photography is composition. It is everything. If you don’t get it right, whatever you say about it goes away,” he said.
We started hiking back to the car before it got dark. Jackson bent down, picked up a rock, examined it for a second and said, “Hmm,” and then put it back. “So, what do you think of my place here? You don’t have to go to the big icons of the area like Bryce and Zion. I mean you do…but you don’t,” he said with the look of a poker player who has a full house.
“Here’s another thing about photography. I feel the wind blowing against my skin. The quiet. That’s what I love about it: where it takes me. I love photography… and singing,” Jackson said.