Picture a man from one of the rainiest
regions of England who loves the desert.
Picture a photographer who has vision and technical know-how
to create aesthetic, thought-provoking images, but who
doesn’t consider himself an artist.
Picture an energetic urbanite who chooses to live in a
town of 5,000 in rural Utah.
Picture a man in awe of nature but who chooses to rarely
capture it without human presence.
Picture a collage of wallet-sized photographs depicting
this same man in his various stages of life and hair-cuts;
looking like a rock star, a businessman, a hippie – a
man who feels at ease on either side of the camera lens.
Through this collage of verbal images, you can now picture
Parkin is a local photographer who captures arresting images
and creates one of his own.
He seems an unusual fit for Moab – he’s a highly
educated urbanite who exudes a take-charge, ultra-organized
style. When asked what attracts him to the desert, his
response is immediate and to the point: “Heat!”
That partially explains what’s brought, and appears
to be keeping, him here.
Originally from Bolton, England, Parkin graduated from
Reading University with a degree in Chemistry, which led
to six years of teaching high school. He parlayed his interests
in science and education into book publishing, working
for heavyweights like Oxford University Press and Macmillan.
An outside opportunity brought him to San Francisco in
1991, where photography piqued his interest.
Like a true academic, he returned to school to gain the
technical expertise his first photos, which he describes
as “terrible,” lacked. At the end of three
years, he had earned an M.F.A. in Photography from the
Academy of Arts College.
In addition to pursuing theoretical knowledge, Parkin also
values practical know-how and on-the-job experience. He
really got a solid grasp on photography and its commercial
side by entering it much like any industry, from the ground
During his years in San Francisco, he worked just about
every angle of the business, as well as the camera. Parkin
wryly points out that many foreigners get their first jobs
in America by driving. Instead of people in taxis, he delivered
film. He subsequently worked in a photo lab and eventually
free-lanced in the highly demanding position of Photographer’s
Assistant. This position made him responsible for every
detail of a shoot, including loading and focusing the camera
and lighting the set so the photographer can achieve his
vision and get the shot.
Parkin’s work with commercial photographers in the
studio and on location allowed him to experience all aspects
of photography from products to portraits, food to fashion.
He eventually moved into location scouting, which required
him to find the right backdrop for a shoot and put together
a presentation within an incredibly short deadline. Parkin’s
lean figure and dynamic movements make it easy to imagine
that he thrived on short deadlines and long days, which
helped him achieve success in all aspects of commercial
photography in the Bay area.
A downturn in the economy led to less work in advertising,
which galvanized Parkin to move to Moab, one of the many
deserts he escaped to during vacations. He arrived in 2001
that he would only stay a short time.
Unlike many artists who end up here and feel inspired by
the muse of the desert, Parkin took a long break from photography.
He re-focused his lens earlier this year when he was asked
to join an abstract show featuring local artists. Although
Parkin’s work is not characterized as abstract, he
is currently fascinated with color and this exhibit gave
him the impetus to pursue this interest artistically.
The photographs he contributed capture brilliant hues of
blue, green, red and yellow without immediately revealing
the subject of the picture. In fact, the subject of the
photo seems intentionally obscured in preference for capturing
its color, shape and reflective surface.
Despite the obvious artistry of most of his work, Parkin
declines to be called “an artist.” He prefers
to refer to himself as “a commercial photographer
interested in art.” He explains this distinction
by defining art as “craftsmanship that challenges
a viewer’s established opinions of the world,” and
doesn’t feel as if his images have succeeded in this
He admits that he holds an “exceedingly narrow description
of art,” and certainly seems willing to consider
other possibilities. For people with a broader view of
what constitutes art, Parkin appears more like an “artist
who did commercial photography.”
Thanks to his laborious days working in the various positions
on the team shoots, he gained a remarkable technical expertise
in all aspects of photography, including developing the
film. He has created his own boutique micro-lab for film
in his studio.
The only area he has eschewed in photography is digital
capture. As useful as the new technology is for certain
purposes, he does not feel that it has caught up yet to
the capacity film has for detail and largeness. Also, Parkin
really enjoys playing around with the chemical reactions
integral to film, not surprising considering his original
area of study.
Like a jazz musician, Parkin likes to break the “rules” of
photography. A picture taken directly into the sun on infrared
film results in an ethereal image of multi-colored bubbles
rising from a horizon. He shoots a variety of subjects
with infrared film, which changes the colors dramatically.
In a photo entitled, “The Other Place,” the
greenery of an English countryside is rendered magenta,
imbuing the photo with an ethereal quality. The eye recognizes
the image but the color does not fit what the mind expects
from such a subject. The infrared film also creates an
In both of these photos, Parkin includes the sprocket holes
running along the top and bottom of the image into the
composition, a reminder of his preference for film and
his capability to create the composition of the image.
Like a true professional, Parkin leaves very little to
chance and the images he achieves are well-thought out
and intentional. Often, he sketches an idea and plans the
composition carefully. Because he recognizes the full potential
of the camera and film, he achieves many spectacular effects,
without having to tinker much in the lab or in Photoshop.
An example of this is his ability to use large original
film to bring one aspect of the photo into sharp focus
while the rest is left intentionally hazy, such as in the
photo, “Bijou-Bilge,” depicting a pair of reading
glasses resting on an open book. He uses this technique
effectively in his abstract photo entitled, “One
Small Step,” where the subject creating the blue
color in the background is undefinable.
He may have a narrow view of what constitutes art, but
Parkin has a broad view of what is worth capturing in art.
His current subject matter draws from the surrounding landscape,
in which he intentionally includes the interface between
man and nature. He chooses not to edit out human’s
presence because so little truly pristine nature exists
and he prefers not to represent it falsely.
He is also interested in documenting the changes taking
place in and around Moab. He has started a series of color
photographs, entitled “Recent Developments,” in
which he captures a mundane man-made object, such as a
trailer warehouse, within the image of a striking red rock
landscape. In one image, he includes his own shadow as
he is taking the photo.
The shadow seems a clever way of autographing the photo.
It also seems emblematic of the imprint Parkin is leaving
through his recorded vision of the world.