Looking up at Trees

Looking up at Trees (from the “Jungle Road” portfolio) © JOHN UPTON

Inspired by his association with both Minor White and Ansel Adams, John Upton went on to become a prominent photographic educator in addition to his work as a professional and fine art photographer. He collaborated on the classic textbook Photography, first published in 1976 and now in its tenth edition. As a photographer, Upton has made the transition from black and white film to the digital universe, with beautiful results.

John Upton’s interest in photography began in the late 1940s when he was a high school student in Los Angeles. He would drive from North Hollywood to the public library downtown, where he would study the books of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The librarian noticed him looking at The Cats of Wildcat Hill and Fifty Photographs and offered to show him a portfolio of original Edward Weston photographs. Seeing the Weston portfolio was a decisive moment for Upton — the moment when he knew that he wanted to be a photographer.

Although Upton’s parents gave him two photography books for Christmas — Weston’s My Camera on Point Lobos and Adams’s My Camera in Yosemite Valley — they were still apprehensive about his career choice. His mother owned a small advertising agency and his father owned a weekly newspaper, The San Fernando Valley Journal. They were hoping that he would become a journalist.

In 1950, Ansel Adams came to the Art Center in Los Angeles to give a lecture, and Upton took his father to the event. There was an overflow crowd, and loudspeakers had to be placed outside for people to hear Adams. Afterwards, Upton’s father told him, “This is interesting. Go ahead, John, you can do this.”

More of this article can be read in the Winter 2010 issue.