Arizona Photographer Receives NANPA Fellow Award

Tucson-based nature and conservation photographer Jack Dykinga will receive a NANPA Fellow Award during the 2021 Nature Photography Virtual Summit, April 29-30. Dykinga began his career as a photojournalist in Chicago, working for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, where he won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. After moving to Arizona and working at the Arizona Daily Star, he began working on a book about the Sonoran Desert, which launched his career in a new direction. Dykinga is a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and his work regularly appears in National Geographic and Arizona Highways magazines. He’s taught at the University of Arizona and Pima Community College and has received NANPA’s 2011 Outstanding Photographer of the Year and 2017 Lifetime Achievement Awards. Dykinga’s latest book, A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer (Rocky Nook), was published in 2017.

One of the challenges he’s faced as a photographer came when he began photographing the desert. “Like all documentary photographers,” he said, “I was forced to learn the biology to better comprehend what I was seeing. Learning in continual for a curious mind.”

Perhaps his biggest challenge came with a life-threatening illness in 2014. After a long recovery, (“I don’t give up too well,” he was reported to have said) he was back in the field with his camera and an enhanced appreciation for the fragility of life in a harsh, desert environment.

Over the years he’s lived in Arizona, much has changed. The state has seen explosive population growth, droughts, wildfires, escalating temperatures, and other symptoms of climate change. Living in the Sonoran Desert places him squarely in the middle of all of that. “I am therefore,” he says, “forcing myself to record the damage and changes here. It’s not fun!”

Catalina State Park, Arizona.  Big Horn Fire aftermath that charred  120,000 acres of Sonoran Desert. and lasted six weeks, from June 5th lightning strike until July 23rd when it was put out. Badly burned barrel cactus with singed skin and burnt off spines. © Jack Dykinga
Catalina State Park, Arizona. Big Horn Fire aftermath that charred 120,000 acres of Sonoran Desert. and lasted six weeks, from a June 5th lightning strike until July 23rd when it was put out. Badly burned barrel cactus with singed skin and burnt off spines. © Jack Dykinga

Nature photography has changed, too. The gear and technology has improved dramatically, which has brought its own set of challenges. Like many photographers, Dykinga would rather be in the field, shooting, than hunched over a computer. “I hate computers and long for a day when updates only occur once a year!” he said.

He’s seen trends come and go, from highly saturated transparencies to overly processed HDR. “In spite of a number of photographers creating a cartoonish digital world, there are still those rooted in the natural world, who value an accurate representation of wild places and wildlife,” he says.

While nature photography is a fairly solitary pursuit, groups like NANPA bring photographers together to share with, support, advocate for, and encourage each other. “The word networking bothers me,” Dykinga says, “but sharing ideas and giving honest critiquing absolutely improve everyone’s photographic competence.”

If you’ve been around nature photography for any length of time, you’ve seen one (probably many) of his images. Dykinga’s work brings awareness of the beauty and fragility of the American Southwest, in part by showcasing the beauty found in environments that are all too often considered harsh and uninviting. Whether it’s a photo of a dying patch of water-starved cacti that distresses us or a family of great horned owls that delights us, Jack Dykinga will be there to document it. He believes in the power of photography to advocate for the protection of wild and endangered places and his work has brought public attention to many places in need of saving.

Two female members in the field looking at images