Derek Johnston’s Deep Ecology

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

For Derek Johnston, it’s always been about rivers. He was 7 years old when he won a camera in a supermarket grand reopening raffle in Youngstown, NY, and right there, in the flows of the Niagara River, he found his first photographic obsession. He realized right away that fractions of a second allow you to see things you miss with the naked eye, so much so that the flow of a river can be frozen—or drawn out—depending on the whims of the photographer and the tools at hand.

He applied to exactly one college out of high school, the Rochester Institute of Technology (just down the road from Eastman Kodak and esteemed in the world of photographic arts), because he’d known exactly what he wanted to do since he was 7. An artist’s residency at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in the middle of Colorado’s Rockies gave him his first taste of the west, and that was that. Johnston moved to the Frying Pan River valley in the mid-’90s, and soon after found his new Niagara.

The collection of images Johnston refers to as “Up the Pan” span a time period that almost matches his time in the valley. The over 500 images he considers part of this project—of which the selection here is a tiny portion—include images Johnston took in the latter part of the last century. On its face, it seems like a mammoth undertaking, until you realize that for Johnston it has simply been a matter of better seeing what he calls his “bigger backyard.”


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