Q&A: Snapshots of History at the Arizona Camera Museum in Flagstaff

Some of the cameras and camera accessories on display at the Arizona Camera Museum in Flagstaff. See more photos at the bottom of this story. | Courtesy of Tom Holtje

In a world of all things digital, we seldom think about how the tools we use every day came to be. Photography, for example, is as easy as pulling your phone out of your pocket and pressing a button — or setting your digital camera to automatic. In the days of film and manual settings, things were much different. In November, Tom Holtje, an avid camera collector, opened the Arizona Camera Museum to not only showcase his extensive collection, but also explore the history of cameras and photography. We caught up with him to learn more about it. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Tom Holtje. I’m the curator, founder, operator and sole employee of the Arizona Camera Museum in Flagstaff. I grew up on the East Coast, and I’ve lived in Flagstaff for about six years. I can’t remember a time I didn’t have a camera growing up. My father was the family photographer, and he took a lot of pictures and slide photos. My mom worked at Fotomat for over 10 years, so that was another entryway for me into photography. I got my first camera in high school; I started taking pictures for all sorts of things, like the newspaper and the yearbook.

Have you always collected cameras? How did your collection start?
I started working in photo retail in camera shops. I worked at one in New Jersey, and that’s where I started learning about all different types of cameras. I worked in several different camera shops from 1982 until 2000, and during that time, I started collecting some pieces. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that I seriously started collecting cameras. I used to have a lot of collections — baseball caps, buttons, Beatles memorabilia — but eventually I realized that photography and cameras were where my passion really was.

Once I had more than 60 cameras and camera-related objects, I decided to really put effort into displaying it. I’m an art teacher, so education of people, of cameras and the history of photography is something I’ve pursued.

Tell us a little bit more about the collection in the museum. What are some of your favorite pieces?
I currently have about 100 pieces on display; that’s just a portion of my collection. In the spring, I plan to rotate some of the things on display now. I collect anything photographic: I have cameras, photographs, camera toys and advertising. I accept donations, and that’s sort of growing my collection as well. The one camera that I sort of feature is the StarKist Charlie the Tuna camera from 1971. I also have a camera that’s on loan from a local photographer, Shane Knight; it’s a big 8x10 camera, and it sort of dominates a corner of the museum. He acquired it from the original owner, who had taken four presidents' pictures with the camera. I also have a lot of box cameras.

I like to have the museum be a very interactive experience, so I have some View-Master viewers on display for children and adults, I have a video of some old Kodak TV commercials, and I have some tintype photographs that have a magnet next to them, so the picture can stick to it.

What are some of the fan favorites in the collection?
I have some cameras from the early ‘30s by Kodak called the Beau Brownie; they were updated, and the front of them have this Art Deco, Mondrian-esque design with different colors. I also have these soda can cameras from the late 1990s; they look like soda cans and take 5 mm film. I have a lot of Polaroid cameras; they had a lot of popular, iconic cameras that people really seem to enjoy.

What do you hope people learn or take away when they visit the museum?
Because our current culture is all cellphones, I want people to realize there’s this whole industry that was focused around one thing, and that was taking pictures of a specific event. If you didn’t have a camera, you weren’t able to record it. And also, the diversity of all the cameras out there. Most of my collection is film cameras. I want people to get a really good knowledge of the history of cameras and how important photography is to our culture.

Are there any upcoming events at the museum?
I just started the Cameras and Coffee Social Club, which meets on the fourth Saturday of every month. We’ll meet and just talk about photography-related things. I also offer several classes that cover everything from how to take better pictures and the history of photography, to how a camera works and George Eastman’s contributions to the art of photography.

What do you hope to change or add as the museum grows?
Everybody seems to have a story about a camera, or they know someone who has a collection. One of the things I’d like to do as a museum is incorporate the interest in the community into the collection. I recently had a local artist, Rebekah Nordstrom, do some paintings of antique cameras, and I display them in the museum. I want to start doing showcases for local community members, so they can display their own camera collections. It would be awesome to have a mini-collection inside of my own collection.

I’m also hoping that the museum will become ultra-popular so that I can move into a bigger space. My dream is to be able to do this full time.

The Arizona Camera Museum, located inside the Market of Dreams (2532 E. Seventh Avenue) in Flagstaff, is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. and other times by appointment. The suggested donation for visitors is $5 for adults and $3 for children. To learn more, visit the museum's Facebook page or contact Tom Holtje at 267-506-9810 or [email protected].

— Emily Balli

All photos courtesy of Tom Holtje.

0 Comments Add Comment

Q&A: Lowell Observatory Adding Observation Deck

This rendering shows the Giovale Open Deck Observatory, a project planned for Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory. | Courtesy of Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff has announced plans to create a new observation deck to help with its increasing number of visitors each night.

According to the observatory, the new deck will be named in honor of longtime Lowell supporters and advisers John and Ginger Giovale, who made a lead gift for the project. “One of the things that prompted us to support this project is the vision being developed there at Lowell Observatory for major revamping of the campus and the visitors' experience," John Giovale said. "We saw this telescope plaza as a way in which momentum may be created towards that bigger objective, that bigger vision. And we were excited about that.”

Molly Baker, communications manager at Lowell, said the Giovale Open Deck Observatory project is “only the beginning of an exciting five-year-long expansion for Lowell Observatory.” The expansion is slated to include more room for exhibits, a larger visitors center and even a theater.

Baker shared additional details on the new observation deck.

Why is an additional deck needed at the observatory?
Lowell Observatory has been attracting 100,000 visitors for the last several years, and our original Mars Hill facility simply can't handle our average nightly admission anymore. The Giovale Open Deck Observatory will provide more telescopes for more guests without the long lines and wait time, and also without the hassle of pulling the telescopes out every night, as the roof housing them will roll off and they can stay stationary.

How many additional telescopes will the observatory house?
The GODO will house five telescopes, all of which provide a different view for the observer. It was important to Lowell Observatory that these new telescopes be of the highest technology, as it is our goal to be a premier private observatory in the nation and internationally.

When is the Giovale Open Deck Observatory expected to open to visitors?
Construction is scheduled to begin this spring. As long as everything goes smoothly, we expect to open the GODO in a members-only sneak peek, and then to the general public, in fall of 2018.

The observatory has created a "Telescope Wish List." What is needed, and how can people donate?
While the construction of the deck is fully funded by the generosity of the Giovales, we are still searching for funding of the large cost of the telescopes. These telescopes add up to a large sum, as they are the best in the industry.

As a nonprofit, Lowell Observatory funds our public program and science research purely on the generosity of our members, donors and grants. This is all possible because of people, like the Giovales, who believe in the mission of Lowell Observatory: to bring pure science research to the public, making discovery accessible to everyone.

People who wish to donate can do so by visiting our website or contacting our development manager, Lisa Actor, at [email protected].

— Kirsten Kraklio

One Comment Add Comment

Q&A: Gerry Groeber and Arizona's Coolest Photo Booth

Courtesy of Red Photo Bus

Arizona Highways readers are familiar with the work and talent of Gerry Groeber, who's become a regular contributor of stunning landscape photos to the magazine — including the cover photo for our October 2016 issue. For the past several years, Gerry and his wife, Emily, have also been hard at work on a new project, the Red Photo Bus. Together, they restored a vintage 1975 Volkswagen and made it into a portable photo booth that can be used at events.

We caught up with Gerry and asked him about his work and his bus. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell our readers a little about yourself.
I’m a photographer from East Mesa. I’m also a technician, an improviser and an artist. I was recently in a job for seven years and my wife was in a full-time position teaching. We both needed to look for new work at the beginning of the summer, and we wanted to do something together that would allow us to use our individual gifts and strengths, so we decided to create this new business together.

Tell us about your history with Arizona Highways.
I had been working pretty diligently for a year, and I submitted some images for the 2014-15 photo contest. I received a Facebook message from another photographer friend, and he told me my photo was in the running. I didn’t know, and I jumped online and saw that I was in the running, and then received third place for that year. It was pretty surreal; Arizona Highways was something I had been shooting for, and I thought I’d keep trying and just see how I do.

Starting in September 2015, when I placed in the photo contest, I started working with Arizona Highways and was brought on as a contributing photographer. I helped with some photos of Salt River wild horses, and then I was in the April 2016 issue. In October 2016, I got the cover for the fall issue and two other images, including the back page, and then in December 2016, I got another one. While building this business, I’ve kind of taken the last year off.

How did you become a photographer?
I’ve been an artist for many, many years, and for the last three years I’ve been building up my photography business. Growing up, my father was a painter — even though he was a doctor, he loved to paint, so there was always art in my house. I grew up with a lot of books and magazines on classic landscape oil painters, so I always had that push in my life early on. I did some painting at one time, and all of that influence from those classic oil painters kind of shows in my composition. I put all those skills together with my eye for landscapes.

How did you come up with the idea for the Red Photo Bus, and when did it all start?
Emily and I wanted to do something different, something that we could do together that would utilize our skills and talents. Our daughter recently became engaged, and that kind of got us thinking of having a photo booth as a business opportunity. We wanted something that was unique, something that would be memorable and that would make weddings, parties and events much more fun and exciting. We did our first wedding a couple of weeks ago, and we’re doing a 50th birthday party in December, so that’s going to be really fun.

How did you make your idea come to life, and how long did it take?
It really hasn’t been a smooth road. The bus itself took a while to restore — we’ve been working on it for the past five years to get it up to a daily driving state. We got the bus and just wanted to get it restored, and at the beginning of the summer, we decided to convert it to a photo bus.

Designing the flow of the booth took some time. I looked online on how to build a booth and then customized it to our liking. I handmade the booth, which is removable. It took almost two and a half months to build the photo booth. Then I had to design the logo, which we use on the side of the bus and on social media. We also had to design the back of the bus, where people can get their props on in front of a vanity mirror. The props we use are quality props; we spent a lot of time looking for real, good-quality props.

What kind of technology does the photo bus use?
Because I’m a photographer, everything we use is state of the art. Everything is inside the bus; the photo booth is custom designed and fits inside. We have a 20- inch touch screen where you can see yourself as you pose in the booth, and all the lighting is professional portrait lighting. We use a 24-megapixel Nikon DSLR, and we also have instant sharing to your phone and social media when Wi-Fi is available.

What has been your favorite part about having the photo bus business so far?
I love that we actually become a part of the experience of the event. It’s not just a photo booth that sits off in the corner, that people visit if they have time. People are really drawn to it, and they love it. Everybody that we’ve shown it to and every event we’ve brought it to, it’s just a hit.

What do you see in the future for your new business?
We hope that we’ll be able to do events all around the Valley — from weddings to corporate events — and make people’s events that much better. We’re hoping to pick up a New Year’s party.

To see more of Gerry Groeber’s work, visit www.gerrygroeber.com. To learn more about the Red Photo Bus, visit www.redphotobus.com.

— Emily Balli

0 Comments Add Comment

Q&A: Cat Bradley on Her Record-Setting Grand Canyon Run

Cat Bradley tackles her rim-to-rim-to-rim run at the Grand Canyon last month. | Courtesy of Cat Bradley

Cat Bradley didn't spend much time taking in the scenery last month at the Grand Canyon. The 25-year-old Colorado ultrarunner achieved a new women's fastest known time for a rim-to-rim-to-rim run in the Canyon, finishing the trek in 7 hours, 52 minutes on Nov. 14. Bradley's time was 23 minutes faster than the previous record, set by Bethany Lewis in 2011.

It took Bradley a few tries to complete the 42-mile run, from the South Rim to the North Rim and back, in record time, but we caught up with her to find out exactly how she did it.

What got you started down the path of trail running in the first place?
I ran in high school and a little bit in college, but in 2011, I took a break from college and decided to hike the Appalachian Trail on a whim. That’s where I fell in love with the outdoors. I had never really camped or anything before. It was grueling and horrible, but also rewarding and wonderful. 

After 115 days on the trail, I went back to school but had been taking a break from running. After graduation, I met Luis Escobar, who is one of the oldest members of the trail-running community, and he took me under his wing. He convinced me that I could pursue trail running. I fell in love with the sport, the community, being outside — it put all the things that I love into one little package.

When did you realize that you wanted to tackle the rim-to-rim-to-rim run?
I first ran the trail with Luis and a group of people — it took us 16 hours to complete it. During the run, he was telling me about how people would go out and set records for this trail. He couldn't fathom how fast people could run the Canyon. He had even been teasing me, saying, “You can’t do that, kid. You’re slow.” And it was pretty much right then and there when I decided to go for it. I’ve done it three times since then.

How did the first two times go?
The first time I attempted to beat the record was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. I wasn’t properly trained, and was also coming off of bronchitis, but I wanted to go for it anyway. In retrospect, there was no way. It was poor conditions — it was a really hot day. I was not ready mentally or physically. I threw up a lot. I didn’t respect the Canyon for what it was.

The second time I went for it, about two years later, I had quit teaching to be a professional runner. I had some success in races, so I had more reasons to think that I could do it. But it just wasn’t my day. It was another hot day, and I was throwing up again. It was a huge blow to my ego — it had been my only goal all year.

After I went back home to Colorado, I had been researching other races to do, but I realized no race inspired me as much as the Canyon did. So I had booked a three-day trip with my boyfriend and dog to do it again, and I finally got it the third time.

Was it always a goal of yours to beat the previous record set by Bethany Lewis? Or did this happen by coincidence?
It was always the record. The only reason I was in the Canyon was to get the FKT [fastest known time].

How did you train for this run?
The mistake I made for the first attempt was not training for the run. But for the two times after, I did some really specific training. I worked on really long, sustained uphills and really long, sustained downhills — the downhills were very technical.

One day a week I did a road run with a long, sustained climb, at a moderate pace — about 3,000 feet in elevation gain. And then coming downhill, I ran hard to strengthen my quads. Then, every other day, I trained on trails. It was by far the most volume and intensity that I’ve ever had in training.

What challenges did you face?
Nutrition in an ultramarathon is definitely my biggest weakness and was my downfall in the first two attempts. I am notorious for throwing up in a race, and if I start getting sick in a race, I’m done — which is what happened the first two times.

I was able to manage my nausea the third time, but only because I only ate 500 calories over the course of 7 hours, 50 minutes, and 42 miles. You should eat about 1,200 to 1,500, so I was at a huge deficit. I felt so weak during the last climb, but I just didn’t want to throw up, so I sacrificed eating.

What was going through your mind while you were running?
I was extremely focused. I wasn’t thinking about anything else but my goal. I was constantly self-evaluating my state, because it was changing after so many miles — you have to be really in tune with yourself. I was asking myself questions like “How am I feeling?” “Am I dizzy?” “Do my legs hurt?” “How can I address that?” “Am I still using proper mechanics?” It’s constant problem-solving. And that’s why I love it.

When you finished, how did you feel?
Oh, my gosh. It was a wave of so many emotions. That last climb was one of the toughest racing moments of my life. When I got to the top and realized I missed my initial time goal, I was bummed. But as soon as I saw my puppy and my boyfriend, I was so happy. I just couldn’t believe it. I don’t remember this, but my boyfriend, Ryan, said I screamed, “I did it! I did it! I did it!” 

What, or who, is your inspiration?
I have quite a few inspirations, but I’m mostly inspired by young women getting into this sport. It’s so daunting, but I think it’s really important for young women to push themselves like this. I think it’s great that this sport is getting more competitive, because it’s more acceptable for women to say, “Yeah, I can run a trail race, too.”

What is your advice for aspiring trail runners, whether it be competitive or just for sport?
Get out the door, no matter what. It’s so hard sometimes. You get home from work and it’s the last thing you want to do, but you have to do it. You’ll never, ever regret getting out the door.

— Brianna Cossavella

One Comment Add Comment

Q&A: Chris Gall's Year of Arizona Highways Covers

The 2017 Explore Arizona! series began with the Grand Canyon and ended with Monument Valley. | Illustrations by Chris Gall

Tucson-based artist Chris Gall isn’t new to the pages of Arizona Highways. But his work on the magazine's cover? That was new.

Each month this year, subscribers to the magazine were delivered an illustrated cover of one of 12 beloved Arizona locations. Many loved the covers, which now are available as posters and as a postcard set. A few others criticized the lack of photography on the cover, but Gall doesn't seem too concerned. “Arizona Highways will tell you, they have a long history of using artwork, going back to the ’20 and ’30s, so it’s not totally unprecedented,” he says. “It’s a magazine about the beauty of Arizona. Photography is a form of art. So is illustration.”

We asked Gall a few questions about his work for the magazine's 2017 Explore Arizona! series.

What was your inspiration for creating these covers?
I had always been fond of the old travel posters that came out in the 1920s and ’30s. I always thought how great it would be to create a whole series of travel-poster-looking things, that were sort of retro but sort of modern, for the state.

Your illustrations were created from scratch, rather than photo manipulations. What was your process like?
Everybody needs photographs at some point — whether they’re mine or out in the public domain — if you’re trying to draw that something people are going to recognize. I usually drew from many sources. For example, the Grand Canyon. You can’t take a photo of that image that I created, because it doesn’t exist from any one place. I wanted to include the vista, I wanted to include the deep Canyon, I wanted to include a horse trail ... and there is no one place. That’s my job as the illustrator: to take pieces and arrange them compositionally in a way that captures the essence of it.

Once the sketch was decided on, describe your process for creating the illustration.
Using a drawing tablet, I bring the sketches into Photoshop. Getting a sense of my palette first is the most important thing: exactly what color is the sky, that sort of thing. It’s not that different from creating a painting — you’re creating a base layer and adding layers on top. The thing about digital, obviously, is that I can move things around more freely. If I change my mind, I can be wrong with much less consequence, because I can change things color-wise and move objects, something I can’t do in painting, necessarily. For a lot of my fine line work, I create it in Adobe Illustrator and then import and layer into Photoshop.

Generally, how long did each cover take to create?
Every one was different for the research part, and of course, there were a lot of sketches. I’d generate half a dozen different sketches of what I’d primarily focus on, which could take a couple of days. The actual drawing itself, on average, took five days per piece.

What was one of the biggest challenges you encountered while illustrating the covers?
One of the challenges was trying to keep a variety of color palettes and a variety of perspectives: looking down, looking up, looking from far away. It was especially challenging because there are a lot of locations in Arizona that have red rocks, and I think I had three in a row: Sedona, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly — all of which have reddish rocks in them. That was a big challenge, trying to keep them separate, where I wasn’t using the same reds or the same color palette.

What was it like to see your first cover published?
Great! Especially in the grocery store where it’s sitting out. I worked extra hard on the first one, because I knew the better the first one, the better all of the other ones would have to be, because I’d have to keep that same level of quality the rest of the year.

Your work is on display at ArtsEye Gallery in Tucson through December. What can visitors expect to see?
This time, we thought we would do a retrospective of not just the 12 covers, but other artwork I did for the magazine, as well as artwork that is Western-themed that I had done on my own.

— Kirsten Kraklio

One Comment Add Comment

Q&A: A Grand Canyon Murder, and a Painful Personal Discovery

In "Pure Land," Annette McGivney weaves her own childhood trauma into the story of a 2007 murder in the Grand Canyon. | Courtesy of Annette McGivney

Frequent Arizona Highways contributor Annette McGivney is best known for her stories on hiking and nature. But in her new book, Pure Land, she covers new, much more personal territory. In the book, McGivney delves into a murder in the Grand Canyon, the lives of the victim and the killer, and her own rediscovery of painful repressed memories of domestic violence from her childhood.

We spoke with McGivney about how the process of working on the book changed her life. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
I'm the Southwest editor for Backpacker magazine; I’ve been doing that since 1996. I have basically been fortunate enough to be able to make a living out of hiking, and writing about hiking, in the Grand Canyon and other places. I’m also a professor of journalism at Northern Arizona University.

Give us some background on your latest book. How did you become involved and interested in this story?
The book grew out of an investigative story that I did for Backpacker magazine in 2007 — it was about a murder that happened. A Japanese hiker, Tomomi Hanamure, was stabbed by an 18-year-old Havasupai Tribe member. I investigated that for Backpacker — looking into not only the murder, but also the environment down there, where there had been a lot of recent increase in crime. I was looking at it more from the perspective of Backpacker readers and what they might expect at that very popular hiking destination of Supai.

When did you realize you wanted to turn this story into a book?
The story was published in June of 2007, and I just felt like there were so many questions that I had not been able to answer in that article. I started wanting to find out more about the lives of the victim, Tomomi Hanamure, and the kid who murdered her, Randy Wescogame. I just kept persisting and finally connected with Tomomi’s family, and I went to Japan in 2009 and stayed with them for a couple of weeks. I also continued to investigate Randy’s history, of his family and the tribe.

Law enforcement said the motive for the murder of Tomomi was to rob her, and I just felt there had to be so much more to it than that, because Randy stabbed her 29 times, and that’s such a violent crime. In the Grand Canyon, that type of murder was just so unusual, and I felt there was so much more to explore beyond the simple statement that he wanted to rob her.

How did writing and doing research about Tomomi Hanamure and Randy Wescogame personally impact you?
I wasn’t completely aware of it at the time when I was first starting to explore the lives of Randy and Tomomi, but it turns out psychologically, I was really drawn to investigating the reasons behind violence because I actually grew up in a violent home and my father was abusive.

It was so psychologically terrifying when I was a child that I had sealed off memories of the worst abuse, and I wasn’t consciously aware of it. I knew my father had a bad temper, but I couldn’t remember anything. The more I got into the descriptions about Randy and how he murdered Tomomi and the reason behind it, I was actually chipping away at my own psyche and what I had been hiding from myself. The circumstances I grew up in were in some ways similar to Randy, having a violent father.

The tipping point was when I listened to Randy’s confession that law enforcement had recorded, and he described what had happened in very great detail. There was something about that that triggered my own memories so violently that I was not able to sleep, I was having nightmares and felt like I was being haunted by the murder.

I ended up going to a psychiatrist, and they were able to finally get me to admit what happened to me when I was a child. I realized I wasn’t having nightmares about what Randy did, but about what my father did. I was totally consumed with working through all the traumatic memories that were flooding back into my mind.

How long did the process of writing and researching the book take you?
It’s been 10 years from the time when I first covered the murder. I had the psychological breakdown in July of 2010, and then I kind of set things aside for a while. I put the book aside for about two years while I was working on my own mental health and getting my life recalibrated. I continued to investigate family violence and trauma, because I wanted to understand my own situation — to understand why my body was acting a certain way — and I wanted to understand how my mind could’ve possibly sealed off these memories so completely for years. I also continued to periodically read Tomomi’s travel journal.

Things had shifted so dramatically that it felt like part of the story was how the story had affected me, so I re-envisioned the book to incorporate my own experiences as well. All the while, I’ve been teaching full time and doing other freelance writing.

What was the most challenging part of the process for you?
I wanted to write the book in a way that wasn’t describing things from a distance, but kind of letting the reader know what it felt like to be Randy and to be Tomomi and to be me. Especially when I was a child. I wanted people to understand that when a kid is in an abusive home, it’s really confusing and terrifying.

In order to do that, I basically had to relive what happened when I was a child and really deeply reconnect with those memories. That was scary. I had done a lot of work to get over it and get the PTSD symptoms under control, and I was worried about having a relapse by writing about what happened. It was hard, but definitely not as bad as I was afraid it would be.

What was different about writing this book, compared with your other work?
All my previous books have always been about topics that I cared about — the environment or protecting special places that are under threat. This book was so deeply personal, and I had become so connected to Tomomi and her family. The promise I made to them, that I would write a book that would honor her, was a big responsibility that I took very seriously.

If I was going to tell my own story, I wanted to do it right, and I also wanted to do right by Randy in terms of explaining his situation. This one was much more personal and had a lot more passion behind it. From a writing standpoint, it was much more creative. It’s a narrative nonfiction book, and it was really fulfilling from a creative standpoint.

What do you hope to accomplish with your book? What do you hope readers take away from it?
I was reluctant to tell the story of my family at first, but my motivation for doing that was I’m hoping sharing my story will help other people who grew up in a home that was dysfunctional in some way. Even if it happened in the past, 20 or 30 years ago, you still carry those memories with you, and it will have an impact on you. I want to raise awareness about the impact of family violence.

I also started a nonprofit, called the Healing Lands Project, that is raising money to facilitate wilderness and river trips for children who have been removed from homes for domestic violence. I’m hoping that allowing them to be on a river trip for a week will allow them to find healing in nature, which ultimately for me was the light at the end of the tunnel — that’s how I got through as I was a kid, and that’s how I worked through my PTSD as an adult. Part of the sales of my book are going to support the Healing Lands Project. I want good to come out of telling this story.

Annette McGivney’s new book, Pure Land: A True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures, and the Search for Heaven on Earth, was released last week and is available to order on Amazon. For more about the book, visit www.purelandbook.com or www.annettemcgivney.com. You can find McGivney on Twitter @AnnetteMcGivney.

— Emily Balli

0 Comments Add Comment

Q&A: David Muench on the Grand Canyon's 'Timeless Moments'

Speaking with David Muench, a talented photographer and longtime contributor to Arizona Highways, tends to get you thinking about long-lived lives.

Muench has truly lived a life, with a landscape photography career spanning more than six decades. It's hard for anyone else to imagine what his treasure chest of photographs looks like, and the memories flooding his mind every time he gazes at one. We spoke with him recently about his newest book, David Muench’s Timeless Moments: Grand Canyon National Park.

Let's give our readers some insight into your background. Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
I was born and grew up in Santa Barbara, [California]. My mother, Joyce, was a botanist, and my father, Josef, was a writer and nature photographer. They were big naturegoers, naturally, and it was through them that I developed my love for nature also. 

I started going hiking and went on road trips with my parents at a young age. Some days were spent along the coast, and others were spent hiking through the Sierra [Nevada] mountains. I went on my first hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon when I was 10.

When we would go out, I would watch my dad photograph these landscapes. And in these moments, I was so captivated by the moods, temperates and lighting in nature. After a while, I knew that I wanted to capture these moments, too.

While I’m sure it’s a long story, we would love to know how you came to have such a successful career in landscape photography.
Well, my father took photos for Arizona Highways, so I knew the former photo editor before [current Photo Editor] Jeff Kida. Anyway, he told me one day, “If you take a decent photo, we’ll publish it.” So I went out and got lucky on my first try. I took a photo of a saguaro cactus and some clouds, and they ended up using it. That was back in the '40s, and I graduated in ’54. I was still young at the time. 

It’s been a way of life for me ever since. I’ve published about about 60 photography books, a handful of them with Arizona Highways. I’ve done a few exhibits, but I mainly like to publicize my work through books.

I intentionally place myself in seasonal settings, too, like times of the day, times of the week, in between day and night. I take into account my geographical setting. The desert is great during sunrise and sunset, but in the rainforest, with cloud coverage, during the day is best.

The whole process has been very spontaneous and intuitive. There’s been very few structured and strict episodes. I did a few advertising jobs early on, but I’ve carved out most of my career with freelancing. You make opportunities for yourself when you follow your creative energy.

Your most recent book is a collection of four decades of Grand Canyon photography. What was the process that brought this beautiful book to fruition?
I’ve spent majority of my time in Arizona. I absolutely love the desert, especially the Grand Canyon. There’s something about it that has captivated me since I first visited it. It doesn’t do justice just standing at a lookout point. Inspiration for this book came from hiking into it. Hikes in the Canyon are demanding and challenging, but you feel connected because you’re absorbing it, and it’s absorbing you. 

And when I think about the moments I’ve spent there — next to the blue river, or exploring the South Rim in winter, or the North Rim in autumn — I’ve always tried to capture that timeless moment. Those are the moments when the light is exceptional, and it could disappear in seconds. I kept going back to chase these moments and continued to build images. After a while, it was a project that needed to be done. And given the quality of photographs these days, it’s been so rewarding.

Why the Grand Canyon?
It’s such a powerful landscape – so impressive and awe-inspiring. I can’t help but gravitate toward it. I like capturing big places such as this and trying to find the details in it.

In your introduction to the book, you mention the phrase “natural connections” and how these moments inspire what kind of photo you will make. Can you describe what “natural connections” are, and how they play into your photography?
It started out by making photos of something close, like a flower or a rock. I would also take photos of the landscape in the distance. Eventually, I wanted to find a way to tie it all together.

So, with the right lens, I was able to capture what was in the foreground and also capture an expansive background, connecting things together. As I kept making images like this, I realized I was also connecting to myself.

I call it this because you are connecting two parts of the landscape, and the way your eyes change and travel to observe a landscape is fascinating. 

Can you tell us a story about one of your craziest adventures when you were photographing the Grand Canyon? Maybe it was a moment when your tripod almost fell over the rim, or your equipment almost took a plunge during a river trip.
I wasn’t in the Canyon at the time, but one time while I was in Patagonia, I accidentally let my tripod slip and fall into the river.

As far as the Canyon goes, nothing too crazy has happened to me, thankfully. I am very connected to my equipment, and I’m not fearless. That has probably saved me numerous times.

It may be a difficult question to answer, but do you have a favorite spot in the Canyon?
I always come back to Toroweap Point. You drive down a dirt road, and sometimes it can be wet, muddy and messy. But once you get settled, you get up early and look down. You get that feeling in your stomach when you look over a cliff and you see the river and the vistas. The area is primitive and gives you a sense of wild. And most importantly, you can hear the delicate sounds of the roaring river below. That’s what I remember most.

What's on the horizon for Mr. Muench?
I’m really looking forward to returning to some of the places I’ve been to, and noticing how I see these places differently. I haven’t been back to Arizona in about a year. There’s always new things to see, or you see things differently after some time, and I can’t wait to see how I respond to these places.

This might be cliché, but when we're photographing these great places, we need to take them with the intention of preserving the place. On social media, things have been lean, and I hope we can come back to nature. I know that sounds corny, but nature is very delicate, yet powerful. We are seeing the powerful side now with the hurricanes — she’s not always the nicest lady. But we can’t just say we will preserve and protect; we need to show up that way, too.

To learn more about David Muench, visit his website. You can order his newest book on Amazon.

— Brianna Cossavella

0 Comments Add Comment

Q&A: A Native Fashion Designer Pursues His Passion

Courtesy of ACONAV. See more photos at the bottom of this story.

In October 2016, Native American fashion designer Loren Aragon left his engineering career and made his runway debut at Phoenix Fashion Week. This year, after making fashion his full-time job, the Arizona resident will return to the runway with a new collection — and hopes to claim the title of Designer of the Year.

We spoke with Aragon and asked him about his latest collection, what inspires his brand and how he became a fashion designer. You can see more photos of his designs at the bottom of this story. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell us about yourself and your fashion brand.
I’m Loren Aragon, I’m originally from the Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico, and I’m a Native American fashion designer. I started living in Arizona in 1998 and graduated from Arizona State University in 2004.

My brand is ACONAV; we’re a couture fashion brand based out of Phoenix, specializing in women’s couture evening wear. We’re trying to express the idea of evoking the empowerment of the female spirit through fashion, and also representing Native fashion and Native America respectfully through fashion – mainly the Acoma Pueblo, which is mostly known for pottery art culture, you’ll see that a lot of my designs are representative of that and where I’m from.

When did you become a fashion designer?
I got into fashion about four years ago. Before that, I finished a degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State. I worked around the Valley in different occupations as an engineer for about 13 years, and then, for about 11 of those 13 years, I got back into the arts. I started to explore different avenues of art. I love to draw and always had some connection to art, either traditional or contemporary.

Back in 2012, I was awarded a fellowship that allowed me to research my own textiles in New Mexico. I really wanted to give identity to Native fashion. A lot of prints weren’t satisfying as far as them being recognizable to one particular tribe, and I really wanted to represent our pottery culture in a more wearable art form, so with the help of that fellowship, I was able to develop my own textiles. I used those in my first small capsule collection, and people loved what they saw. From then on, I progressed my fashion designs. The only education I’ve gotten in sewing was from my mother and my aunt, who were seamstresses most of their lives.

When did you realize you wanted to transition from a career in engineering to a career in fashion?
I think it was just landing upon something unique that people really loved. I did illustration; I got into jewelry and sculpture and fine arts. People love those things, but they aren’t really moving, and I just felt like I wanted to do more. Going down the path of the fashion side of things sparked the passion for everything I like doing as an artist, and fashion is sort of a hub for everything. I love to draw, there’s a part of engineering that goes into it, there’s sculptural elements, and it's hands-on. To me, fashion carries everything, and the fact that people love what they see and what I do is just so encouraging and inspiring.

It was a scary decision to make at first, but I was really confident in what I had in my designs. It was tough because I was going between being an engineer and a fashion designer, back and forth, which was just so demanding.

Fortunately, my supervisor at my last job was really supportive of my decision, and he told me I should go for it. He was a great mentor of mine in making that decision, and he continues to be there to support me.

How did ACONAV get its start? What is the brand inspired by, and where does the name come from?
ACONAV started out as a greeting-card company. Me being an illustrator throughout high school and college, I had a small greeting-card company and it didn’t have a name yet; it was just to make money on the side to get me through school. When I met my wife, she discovered my drawing talents and we combined our artistic skills, and we started coming up with more unique cards. She was heavily into scrapbooking, and she wanted to make my cards a little more ornate.

At that time, we came up with the name ACONAV, because I’m Acoma Pueblo and she’s Navajo, so we combined those two cultural names. We both play a lot of roles. My wife is the operations manager — she has a background in business. She helps me with a lot of the sewing as well, and we also include my mother, who is our master seamstress.

We believe in a lot of the same things, and the main part of it being matrilineal culture. We heavily believe in our matriarchs, our mothers. We hold women in high regard, and we wanted to capture that and present it in fashion. Women’s fashion was the answer to that — taking a lot of those matrilineal ideas about empowering the female spirit. In our culture, we look up to them because they are givers of life, they’re nurturers, they’re teachers. We want women to feel empowered when they wear our designs.

Our other biggest influence is our pottery culture. It’s a real recognizable art here in the Southwest, and really world-renowned, it’s a heavily collected item, our pottery art. When I talk to collectors, they say in a lot these designs, they’re timeless and so elegant. And that’s in our brand message, cultural design embodied in timeless elegance. It’s basically taking a snapshot of our culture and embodying that in a wearable art form, and displaying it as a timeless piece that can be worn time and time again while looking elegant.

What was your experience like last year at Phoenix Fashion Week?
Last year was my first year actually applying. I observed Phoenix Fashion Week in 2014 and was really inspired and thought I’d really love to show my collection on that stage one day. In doing the research, I started to discover what was all involved and didn’t feel I was ready. But I met with Brian Hill, the director, on several occasions in meet-and-greets, and he encouraged me to apply.

In May we got the news we were in the 2016 lineup. I was still employed as an engineer at the time, and I had to make the decision to drop my engineering career and pursue this full time to make this work for us.

I’m really glad I did it; it was a great experience. What I really loved was that they helped us develop our brand and figure out who we really are. To be one of two designers that were Native American for the first time in Phoenix Fashion Week last year was awesome. That’s also part of our mission – to bring more awareness and exposure to Native fashion and be more representative of ourselves, rather than be represented by non-Native designers — because we’re still living, we’re still here and we still have a voice.

I came close to winning Designer of the Year last year. We came in second, according to the points system. This year they extended an invitation for us to come back, and for them to continue to believe in my brand is awesome, so I decided to try again.

What can we expect to see in your latest collection?
It’ll be my Spring/Summer 2018 collection. This year’s collection is still very heavily influenced by the pottery art. I’ve spent two months in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the Ron and Susan Dubin Native American Artists Fellowship at the School for Advanced Research. They have an Indian arts research center that has a collection of our pottery, and I’ve been observing a lot of the textures. I want to bring a lot of that into my designs this year.

I also want to concentrate on combining my skills in jewelry making and fashion. I’m going to bring more of my metalwork and ornate embellishments to the designs, giving everything a more three-dimensional look. It’s a little darker, but there’s more color added to the designs.

It’s also going to tell the story of emergence. In our culture, we believe we are a product of the Earth. We emerged from the Earth much like plants — that’s part of our origin story. I’m really inspired by that this year and telling little parts of that story through fashion. The idea of the emerging spirit is also tied into me being an emerging designer.

Loren Aragon’s latest collection will be presented at Phoenix Fashion Week from Oct. 4-7 at Talking Stick Resort near Scottsdale. For more about Aragon and ACONAV, visit www.aconav.com.

— Emily Balli

One Comment Add Comment

Q&A: Preserving Nature and Native Culture at Glen Canyon

Ka-Voka Jackson digs up invasive ravennagrass at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. | Courtesy of Ka-Voka Jackson

Master’s student Ka-Voka Jackson has combined her passion for biology and the environment with her Native American roots to help solve environmental issues from a unique perspective.

With the help of the National Park Service, her professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and volunteers, Jackson has been working on methods to control an invasive plant species at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

We talked to Jackson about her background and what she hopes to accomplish with her work. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tell us about yourself.
I’m 24 years old and I grew up in Peach Springs, Arizona, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, where I spent a lot of time out and about in nature. My mom was the director of the Cultural Resources Department for our tribe. Since we’re really close to the Grand Canyon and Colorado River, we spent a lot of time in the Canyon and on the river.

When I was 18, I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and started college there. I did my first two years of general studies at Salt Lake Community College and then spent two years at the University of Utah, where in 2015 I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology, with an environmental and organismal emphasis. I kept working for the university for another year, until I found a positon with Dr. Scott Abella at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

He was looking for a master’s student to work on a restoration project in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Page, Arizona, and southern Utah, and it was just a perfect fit. They were looking for a Native American perspective, and I have that background. I wanted to continue working on the Colorado River, and it’s kind of like our homeland, so I was really drawn to the project.

What can you tell us about the Glen Canyon project?
The project I have been working on since the end of December 2016 is a restoration project that involves control of invasive species — particularly an invasive grass called ravennagrass. The National Park Service was looking for somebody to kind of take this project on, because they have had problems dealing with these invasive species.

I’m working on methods that will help control the invasive species, and, at the same time, revegetation methods that can help re-establish the native populations in areas where those invasive species have kind of taken over. Ravennagrass is a relatively new invasive species, and there’s not a lot known about its life history — how it grows and what its tolerances are — particularly in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Over spring break, we removed some of the ravennagrass by hand, and we were also doing a lot of the revegetation. We worked on about 12 to 15 plots during that week. It was a lot of work, but the volunteers were awesome. We spent five full days out there — it’s a five-hour drive from UNLV to the Park Service headquarters, and then another four-hour boat ride up to some of the plots, and then we just camped out on the lake.

Why is it crucial that the ravennagrass be removed and replaced in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area?
​Ravennagrass grows to be quite big: It can grow to be 14 to 15 feet tall, and it can grow quite wide as well. It grows in wetter areas, and a lot of these areas in Glen Canyon are hanging gardens. Once it starts growing there, it kind of just crowds [native species] out; it grows in these big clumps that kind of just take over all of the available space. We’re trying to save the biodiversity of this area and the plants and everything that depends on these plants.

It also creates a fire hazard, because it’s a perennial grass. All of the previous year’s growth dies off, but it still stays there, it dries up, and there’s a lot of dry biomass there. If any of these big clumps get set on fire, it’ll be a bigger blaze than what would normally be there.

It’s also not a very friendly plant. It has these really sharp, serrated leaf edges — if you brush up against it, it might cut you. It’s a nuisance for tourists trying to enjoy the park, and animals tend not to like it.

Where have you been focusing your efforts, and what plants do you use to replace the ravennagrass?
I have five side canyons that I’m focusing on: Slick Rock Canyon, Pollywog Bench, Cottonwood Canyon, Llewellyn Gulch and Cottonwood Gulch. A lot of them have their own set of native vegetation that occurs there. So I’m using plants that are nearby my plots, and I’m transplanting them. There’s a variety of things I’m using – bushy beardgrass, seep willow, a bunch of native grasses like Indian ricegrass, fourwing saltbush, a lot of cactus, white sagebrush and arrowweed.

What do you hope to accomplish with the project?
I have a few goals in mind. One of them is to really nail down a method that will successfully and efficiently control ravennagrass. It’s really important that we control this invasive grass so it doesn’t spread more than it already has. I want these methods to be able to be used elsewhere, in other national parks and other areas that are having problems with ravennagrass. Another goal is to successfully re-establish these native plant populations. That way, it’ll be harder for other invasive species to take that place — we want it to be native species that take that place.

Alongside that, I’ve had this cultural focus, so I’m using native plants that have a lot of cultural importance to Native American tribes in the area, including my own. We want these plants to continue growing in these areas because a lot of tribes depend on these plants and they’re really important in their cultures. Native Americans are heavily tied into their culture, and their culture is their lifestyle so it’s really important to be able to say we can successfully revegetate with native species.

What has been the most rewarding part of the project, and what has been the most challenging?

I’d say the most challenging part of the project is the logistics. It’s far away, and it’s kind of hard to get to. If something goes wrong, I can’t just go back in a couple of days and fix it really quick. I have to plan it out, usually weeks in advance, and reserve a boat with the Park Service. I have to take time off. I have to make sure I have the resources available to make it out to Page, and also the availability of volunteers, if I need them.

The most rewarding part, in general, just being out there is really awesome. We get to be out in these really beautiful areas. It’s really rewarding when you go there and spend all this time removing these invasive plants, and then, once it’s all done, you look back at the plot that we just spent two or three hours on and you notice a huge difference. Same with the revegetation. I just checked up on our plots in May, and some of the plants are growing. One cactus we had planted even bloomed. Being out there and noticing the difference is really great and really rewarding.

— Emily Balli

0 Comments Add Comment

Q&A: How Arizona Helped Mankind Get to the Moon

Astronauts Jim Irwin and Dave Scott operate a lunar rover model at the Cinder Lake crater field east of Flagstaff. | Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

It’s been nearly a half-century since Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind” on the surface of the moon. And Kevin Schindler hopes his new book can remind people of the role Arizona played in getting Armstrong and 11 other Apollo astronauts onto the surface of Earth’s closest neighbor.

Schindler and William Sheehan’s new book, Images of America: Northern Arizona Space Training, is a collection of photos of the Apollo astronauts training in the 1960s at several sites in Arizona — including Sunset Crater, Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon. Schindler is a longtime employee of Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory, another site that was crucial in planning the moon missions. We asked him a few questions about the book, which is available for pre-order now and will be released June 19.

What’s your background, and how long have you been at Lowell Observatory?
My background is in paleontology, and I worked at a natural history museum in Florida for six years before I came to Lowell. I’ve been at Lowell for 22 years now. William Sheehan, my co-author, is a psychiatrist by trade who now lives in Flagstaff; in astronomy circles, he’s a well-known historian of astronomy and has written probably 12 or 15 books about Mars and the moon. We became friends years ago, and we’ve talked about doing a larger-scale, comprehensive book about moon stuff in Flagstaff, but we thought we’d at least start here.

What inspired you to do this book? How does your work at Lowell tie into the history of the moon landings and Arizona’s part in them?
I got interested in this subject years ago. Here at Lowell, for a decade, we had a moon mapping program. It was part of the Air Force — the Aeronautical Chart and Information Center — and they contracted with Lowell to use the Clark telescope to make maps of the moon and determine Apollo landing sites.

I was just fascinated, as I got involved in the science community in Flagstaff, with the heritage of what happened with the U.S. Geological Survey and the astronauts coming out here. There were a lot of garages around town that they rented to build rovers, cinder fields where they tested the rovers, tested the hammers and tongs, that sort of stuff. I found it fascinating that so much of that happened, but not much of it is known — that generation is kind of fading a little bit. I just wanted to document it in some way — not a hardcore, high-tech thing, but something the general public would be interested in. We’d like to do more in-depth coverage of it, but we did this as a start, because there are a lot of great pictures, and you can still go to these places and see where this happened.

What was it about these Northern Arizona sites that made them a good fit for training the Apollo astronauts?
The geology and topography is analogous to what they’d find on the moon. Meteor Crater — the best-preserved impact crater on Earth — is exactly what they’d expect to find on the moon. At Sunset Crater, they created a grid in the cinder fields, then buried dynamite at different depths to create different-sized craters and re-create, for example, the Apollo 11 landing site. You can still see those craters today.

They also took the astronauts to the Grand Canyon, and the rocks there aren’t the same as on the moon, but one of the reasons was to learn the basics of how rocks are laid down. The other was that these guys were fighter-pilot jocks and not necessarily interested in geology. The thinking was that if they visited an inspiring place like the Grand Canyon, it might generate more of an interest. And it worked.

What were some other interesting things you learned about the Arizona training?
Just the number of different places in Flagstaff that were used. The bank building downtown was an office; there were different garages around town; there are photos of [Apollo 13 astronaut] Jim Lovell sitting in a rover on the east side of Flagstaff. Most of Flagstaff doesn’t really know just how many different facilities were used and how many people were involved. These astronauts were the rock stars of their time; it’s just great to see these pictures and see what these guys did out here.

What was the research process like, and how long did the book take to complete?
In some ways, I’ve been working on it all through my time at Lowell — I’ll come across cool images, and I’ve done programs on the topic. Doing the book felt like a natural progression. We worked on it really heavily over several months, tracking down a lot of pictures I already had, then going through collections — at the USGS, especially, but also the stuff we have here at Lowell. Several years ago, I was down in Houston and visited Johnson Space Center, and in their archive, I tracked down pictures of astronauts in Flagstaff that I couldn’t find anywhere else, so that was a real gold mine. It’s a photo-rich book, so capturing and collecting all those pictures was the biggest part of it.

Where can people get the book when it comes out June 19?
A lot of places in Northern Arizona will carry it, such as Barnes & Noble and the Lowell gift shop. But it’s also on Amazon, which is a good place to get it if you’re not in the area.

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

0 Comments Add Comment