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Artist of the Month - July 2006

Picture This!
By Annabelle Numaguchi

Brian Parkin
Brian Parkin


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 Brian Parkin.

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 up.

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 domain.

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 unexpected luminosity.

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.


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