Darwin Van Campen: Your Arizona Friend

Lately, profiles of some of Arizona Highways' most iconic photographers have been appearing in our magazine. In May, we featured Darwin Van Campen, a prolific photographer from the 1950s and '60s. That inspired Larry Kluss of Whittier, California, to write.

Last week I ordered your mag to be sent to me online.  After the order was placed, I could then open the May issue online. I was going page by page until I came to page 10. There was a picture of Darwin. I excitedly read the short story and when I came to the last line, I was in shock. I had lost contact with Darwin back in the '60's and just assumed that he had married and had a family. I didn't know that he had died. I know that this is late but I thought you might like to know Darwin.

Well, I knew Darwin back in late '59 and early '60. My friend Bill and I moved to Santa Barbara after high school in June of '59. We both got jobs at a Foster Freeze in Carpinteria just 11 miles south of S.B. This was a new store and Darwin was transferred out to it. He was already working at one of the F.F. stores in S.B. and was near graduation from Brooks. I had always had photography as a hobby and never thought of it as a profession. If I hadn't  met Darwin, I would never have become a photographer. Bill and I started school at Santa Barbara City College in September and worked at the store part time, same as Darwin. We became good friends with Darwin. He told us that he was going to Brooks and told us about the school. I didn't even know that the best photography school in the country was right there in S.B. Darwin took us on a tour of Brooks and that was all it took. After one semester we both transferred to Brooks around March of '60.

Darwin and I talked a lot and besides photography we both liked bowling. We asked if there was a Foster Freeze bowling team and there was. In fact there were 2 openings on the team. Darwin and I both joined. We had a lot of fun. Darwin was really good. At Thanksgiving time the bowling alley had a turkey shoot. Darwin entered and won a turkey.

Darwin was a really good athlete. He told me of the time he was in college and the track team was short one guy. The coach asked Darwin to fill in and he did. Darwin said that he won his race with no experience. He also told me that his dad had changed their last name from Van de camps to Van campen.  He said that they were related. In the time that I knew him, I never saw him get mad about anything. He was always in a good mood. He drove an old, needing a paint job VW bug. He never washed it. We would kid him about how dirty it was and he would laugh and say the next rain will clean it.

I have a letter from him that I have kept all these years. It is dated September 1963. I had written him after a few years and he wrote me back.

Darwin made quite an impression on me and I never forgot him.

Sincerely,
Larry Kluss

Larry was kind enough to pass along the letter he mentioned; you can read it below. We certainly wish Darwin were still with us; he sounds like a great guy.

Darwin Van Campen letter, page 2 | Courtesy of Larry Kluss Darwin Van Campen letter, page 1 | Courtesy of Larry Kluss

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