“A photographer needs to be a good editor of negatives and prints! In fact, most of the prints I make are for my eyes only, and they are no good. I find the single most valuable tool in the darkroom is my trash can – that’s where most of my prints end up.” –John Sexton
Large format black & white master photographer
John Sexton is one of the best contemporary nature photographers. He is an analog photographer who shoots film with cameras that typically use sheets of film rather than rolls. Sheet sizes range from 4-by-5 inches to 8-by-10 inches and larger. Sexton has used Kodak film his entire career. This video was produced by Eastman Kodak in May of 2008.
John Sexton took a workshop from Ansel Adams in June 1973 in Fern Springs in Yosemite Valley, CA to learn how to use a view camera. He was a photography student at the time.
Adams, along with the works of Edward Weston and Wynn Bullock, became John Sexton’s greatest inspirations. Sexton graduated from Cypress College in 1975. His experience at Adam’s workshop steered him away from commercial and advertising as a career path. He wanted to photograph nature. He became Ansel Adams’ technical and photographic assistant in 1979.
Assisting on the official Carter Administration portraits
One of the first projects Sexton worked for Adams was to create the official portraits of President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. This was a first because official portraits had always been paintings.
Adams decided to ask Polaroid to let him use the huge 20-by 24-inch view camera that made Polaroid prints of that size. Polaroid’s John McCann agreed to provide the camera, Polaroid film and a team to work with the camera at no charge. Adams also made the portraits without a fee. Read more about the creation of these portraits on Sexton’s website. (Note: To see the story, scroll down quite a ways. The website does not use internal links.)
He worked as Ansel’s technical consultant from 1982-1984.
John Sexton is a master printmaker, respected photographer and advocate for nature. His work is in the permanent collections of many museums around the world. His prints have been featured in national advertising campaigns by Bank of America and General Motors. CBS Sunday Morning and the PBS MacNeil Lehrer News Hour have done features on him. His work has appeared in American Photo, Time, Life, Photo Techniques, Outdoor, Zoom and View Camera magazines.
He has published four books, “Quiet Light,” (1990) “Listen to the Trees,” (1994) “Places of Power: The Aesthetics of Technology” (2000) and “Recollections” (2006) — a 30-year retrospective of his work.
An extended conversation with John Sexton hosted by John Paul Caponigro appeared in the November 2000 issue of “View Camera” magazine. In this excerpt, John Paul asks about Sexton’s book “Places of Power.”
John Paul Caponigro: “The essays for your new book Places of Power contextualize the work very well.”
John Sexton: “I was hoping for this when I was initially wrestling with the idea of the project. I think one of my essays in the book actually described this. I was trying to grasp why I was fascinated by making these new photographs when prior to that almost everything had related to the natural environment
– seemingly with the overriding hope of preservation. In 1987 I stumbled into a power plant, and then three years later found myself photographing at Hoover Dam. All of a sudden I understood that the thread of continuity within this body of work had to do with human activity, invention, and creation over a span of nearly one thousand years, and the project included my work on Anasazi ruins. Almost instantaneously I realized what I needed was a subject that was contemporary. That’s when I first got the idea to photograph the Space Shuttle. It took time to figure out how all of these subjects working together. From my earliest days of thinking about it as a project, I realized that I wanted somebody to try and explain this process because it is an unusual collection of images. I don’t think there is a single book that contains the same set of subjects. So it was a challenge in that regard. I am pleased with the way all of the essays turned out, and I am very pleased with the way the whole book came together.”
John Sexton today
Currently, he works as a workshop leader as he has for many decades. Sexton was one of singer Kenny Rogers‘ instructors as the country music star worked on his photography hobby. Sexton consults for manufacturers in the photographic industry, serves as Photographic Special Projects Consultant to the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. He has been inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame.