Jeff Kida

We lost a good friend last week. Photographer and longtime contributor Nick Berezenko died on Thursday, and I will miss him a lot.

Nick was one of the most interesting and talented people I’ve ever met. He discovered photography relatively late in life. In fact, by the time Nick got behind a camera, he’d already been a park ranger, a forest lookout and a Shakespearean actor. I remember seeing some of his early work from the Grand Canyon. He brought a couple of pages of 35 mm slides into the office, which was definitely not the magazine’s norm in the 1980s.  Most scenic photographers were shooting 4x5 film, and the smaller format didn’t hold up as well. Regardless, what stayed with me were his images. Nick was sharing photos from places I hadn’t seen, and his vision was all his own. His early compositions were simple, graphic and compelling. I’ve never forgotten them.

When I became Arizona Highways’ photo editor in 2006, I had the chance to reconnect with Nick, and I’ll be forever thankful. We worked on magazine stories, judged photo contests and had long conversations about photography while sitting at the Dairy Queen in Payson. By the time Nick discovered photography, he was “all in.” He couldn’t get enough.

One of my favorite memories is of the time I joined Nick to do a cover shoot for the magazine. It was the fall of 2008, and we had assigned him to shoot the June 2009 cover. This was our “hiking issue,” and we were using two models. I was there to help — and, at times, hinder — as best I could. We did a lot of nail-biting on the day of the shoot, because we had nothing but gray skies for most of it.

Fortunately, the western horizon began to clear and Nick made some wonderful photos. I’d like to share Nick’s memories of that shoot, because I think they speak volumes about who he was and how he lived his life:

“Toward evening, as we worked our way out to the edge of the [Mogollon] Rim, clouds rolled into the west and the light turned wonderfully golden. Everyone got into the spirit of how wonderful everything looked in that rich, syrupy light, and we all worked at a furious pace to produce a variety of different-looking shots with different backgrounds — but they were all shot within the space of 15 minutes. When the glorious light faded into night and we could shoot no more, we all high-fived each other. We knew we’d gotten something special.”

Thank you, Nick. Your life was truly something special.