Phoenix Art Museum

photo by John Hazeltine

Phoenix, Arizona



Arizona Highways: Celebrating the Tradition

November 6, 1999 - January 30, 2000


Through its seventy-five years, Arizona Highways magazine has become known for the quality of its visual imagery. What may be less well-known is how often the magazine has been at the forefront of both stylistic and technological advances in the fields of publishing and photography. The first national consumer magazine to publish an all-color issue (December 1946), Arizona Highways established the standard for travel magazines, virtually creating the genre. Its photography has inspired generations of picture-makers and remains influential today.

Arizona Highways developed and encouraged a visual style that helped define a popular view of the American West. Its early contributors -- Josef Muench, Ray Manley and Barry Goldwater among them -- helped shape these conceptions and added greatly to the early success of the magazine. Their contributions cannot be overstated. The quality of their work helped Arizona Highways become recognized as the premier venue for published landscape photography worldwide and a magnet for some of the world's finest photographers.

Around the time of Arizona Highways' first all-color issue in December 1946, one of America's most notable photographers began his long association with the magazine. Arizona Highways' reputation and broad readership intrigued Ansel Adams (1902-1984). The magazine's emphasis on the beauty and wonder of the natural landscape meshed well with his viewpoint and photographic style. Adams also found a kindred spirit in Raymond Carlson, the magazine's visionary editor from 1938 to 1971. Carlson was open to Adams' ideas and supportive of his work. Arizona Highways appreciated the exposure resulting from the photographer's national reputation and he, in turn, enjoyed the forum for his work and the opportunity to explore more photography in color. Adams' first photograph appeared in the May 1946 issue.

In 1952, Adams wrote Carlson proposing a series of photographic portfolios with accompanying text by Nancy Newhall, the well-known writer and wife of photo-historian Beaumont Newhall. The six portfolios that eventually were published between 1952 and 1954, contained some of Adams' best-known photographs of the Southwest: Canyon de Chelly, Tumacacori, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Sunset Crater, Death Valley and his visual exploration of the mission and people of San Xavier del Bac.

Ansel Adams took many of the photographic conventions established by Arizona Highways -- the near reverent exaltation of the landscape, the romanticization of Arizona' s places and people -- and gave them his unique imprint. His muscular compositions, use of exaggerated perspective and dramatic sense of light helped push the magazine's visual style away from its expository and documentary roots and into the forefront of published landscape and editorial photography. A subtle transformation in Arizona Highways photographic approach was beginning to show, and if Adams wasn't the catalyst for the progression, he was certainly intimately involved in the process.

Arizona Highways' other contributors were not idle during this period. David Muench grew up with photography and Arizona Highways. His father, Josef, was a pioneering color landscape photographer and one of the magazine's most important contributors. From an early age, David accompanied his father on his photographic forays. These experiences, combined with his own natural talent, ambition and desire, inspired him to soon explore his own vision. For two decades, beginning in the 1960s, he worked hard at his craft. Almost compulsive in the pursuit of the next image, David turned out a tremendous amount of color landscape photography in a relatively short time. More importantly, during this, his most prolific period, he developed a style of landscape photography that was his own. The cover of the January 1955 issue was the first time a Muench photograph was featured in the magazine. (left: David Muench, White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly, 1967, © David Muench)

Muench had begun in much the same stylistic tradition of Ansel Adams. Like Adams, for a time in the 1960s, Muench even photographed in black and white and sold fine prints. His photographs had Adams' hallmark Wagnerian approach to light, composition and the natural world. Black and white photography for Muench, though, would be a temporary diversion. His real love was color.

Muench appropriated the Ansel Adams style and turned it on its emotional ear. Where Adams was dramatic, Muench's approach displayed even more bravura. Color contributed an important element to his arsenal. Where Adams celebrated light, Muench glorified each incandescent sunrise or sunset. Where Adams would occasionally use wide-angle lenses for exaggerated foreground perspective, Muench anchored his style with an almost trademark "near-far" focus. Plants, rocks and flowers would literally be only inches from the lens, metaphorically grabbing viewers by the shirt collar and pulling them into the frame. Careful use of his view camera's movements and small lens apertures allowed Muench to hold his focus from front to back in the photograph, his subjects tightly defined from the extreme foreground to the far distance. Once engaged by a plant or cactus in the foreground, the viewer's eye would then soar to distant mountains or fly over a tightly focused midground to the far horizon. Muench's style created photographs both intimate and monumental, a seemingly impossible marriage of elements. His love of the natural world and talent for translating his emotional response to a scene into powerful images inspired the next generation of color landscape photographers.

In 1971 while working as a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times, Jack Dykinga won a Pulitzer Prize for a powerful photo essay on the conditions in Illinois' public mental health facilities. Five years later, lured by the prospect of a photo editor's job at Tucson's Arizona Daily Star, he moved to Arizona. The move west corresponded with a burgeoning environmental interest and a dedication to photography beyond his editorial roots. During his free time he began to photograph the landscape in earnest and plan for the time that he would be able to devote all of his energies to his personal work. After five years with the Arizona Daily Star, he decided he was ready. (left: Jack Dykinga, Willcox Playa, Sunrise, 1987, © Jack Dykinga)

Dykinga's decision to devote his energies to his environmental and photographic interests coincided with the headiest of times for Arizona Highways. Its circulation had reached an all-time high of 750,000 in 1978. Many factors contributed to its broad readership, not the least of which was the photography of Ansel Adams and David Muench. Dykinga, like most color landscape photographers of his generation, was hugely influenced by Muench' s work in Arizona Highways, the premier publication in the world for color landscape photography. When Dykinga began to photograph the landscape he used Arizona Highways as a springboard for his own considerable talents. His first photograph appeared in the November 1982 issue.

Dykinga's photography is less a restatement of familiar themes than a refinement of cherished visual conventions. His advocacy of the environment sharpens his intent and drives his ambitions. He is the best of the current generation of color landscape photographers. His photographs can take a subject that in lesser hands would become a cliche and distill its meaning, revealing further layers of understanding. Using composition, light and viewpoint, Dykinga develops an almost crystalline clarity, confronting the viewer with his own focused feelings about landscape and the environment. His photographs compel and inform, pushing the limits of personal emotional response on film while at the same time championing the natural world.

As Arizona Highways begins its seventy-sixth year, and the world a new millennium, the magazine's influence is felt internationally, quite an achievement for a little publication whose initial function was to document road-building in America's newest state. Through the years, Arizona Highways has enjoyed long working relationships with some of the country's most talented editors, writers and photographers. All have benefited as a result.

Today Arizona Highways boasts subscribers in every state and two-thirds of the world's countries. Year after year, it is recognized by its peers for excellence in photography, writing and design. As the magazine enters the twenty-first century, its dedication to the highest standards will continue to influence the way people around the world view Arizona.


Arizona Highways Then and Now

With the humble mission of informing readers of the state's road building efforts, Arizona Highways magazine embarked on a journey in 1925 that has taken it from a black-and-white publication to an award-winning magazine recognized throughout the world for its superb color photographs and features about the people and places of Arizona.

The first issue of Arizona Highways magazine was published on April 15, 1925, containing 26 pages with advertising, and selling for 10 cents each. The April 2000 issue of the magazine will mark its 75th anniversary with a special 64-page collector's issue celebrating the best of Arizona. "It's an exciting time for Arizona Highways and for the people of Arizona," said Publisher Nina La France. "For 75 years, Arizona Highways has been dedicated to promoting the state, whether it was the roadwork the state was so proud of in its early years or the natural beauty we are so proud of today."La France said the fact that the magazine has survived and prospered during its 75 years is proof of its importance to the state.

Arizona Highways, like other state publications, saw tourism as an important economic resource and hoped that by promoting its roadwork Americans would view the state as a vacation destination. Arizona Highways' first issue included a "travelog" about the drive between Phoenix and Yuma. The article also listed 17 future travelog titles that would show "the condition of the highway, points of interest, and hotel and garage accommodations, and other valuable information for the tourist . . . illustrated by maps and scenes."

President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal during the 1930s brought federal funding for large transportation projects in Arizona, giving Arizona Highways new momentum to promote travel in the state and entice tourists to the Southwest. The Great Depression also meant less advertising money for the magazine, although the magazine continued to receive a state subsidy. Paid advertising, which for 14 years had been mostly for road building equipment and materials, was discontinued in 1939.

The late 1930s became a turning point for the magazine in many ways. In 1938, Raymond Carlson became the magazine's sixth editor. Known as Arizona Highways' "philosophical architect," Carlson and the Arizona Highway Commission stopped the advertising with the goal of improving the magazine's visual appeal. He also believed it would avoid competition for advertising dollars with other privately owned Arizona-based publications. Carlson increased the use of black-and-white scenic photography and brought in George Avey to become the magazine's first art editor.

Arizona Highway's first color photograph appeared on the July 1938 cover. The invention of Kodachrome in 1936 greatly advanced color photography and opened the door for the magazine to showcase the state's wonders with color photos. During those formative years for the magazine in the late 1930s', it became clear to Carlson and Avey that the best way to show off the state's unique beauty was through breathtaking photographs -- a philosophy that holds true today.

Realizing the success and attraction of the magazine's color covers, Carlson added four-color photographs to the inside pages of the December, 1939 issue, a format that became an annual holiday tradition. Still today, Arizona Highways' December holiday issue includes a photographic portfolio -- "Our Greeting Card to the World" -- continuing a tradition started almost 60 years ago.

Four-color photography, the hallmark of today's Arizona Highways, began popping up repeatedly in the magazine in the mid-1940s. Regular issues with four-color photography began with the January, 1944 issue. Ironically, it was not Carlson who began this trend, but Editor Bert Campbell who was filling in while Carlson served as an infantryman in World War II. The first all-color issue of Arizona Highways was published in December, 1946. The magazine scored a first with the publication, becoming the first all-color issue of a nationally circulated consumer magazine. The all-color format became standard for all issues starting in January, 1986.

The popularity of Arizona Highways also can be linked to the highly romanticized view of the Southwest during the 1940s and 1950s when Americans were introduced to the beauty of the West - especially Monument Valley and the saguaro cactus - in John Fords' Western movies. Later, television and novels focused more and more on the West, and Americans became intrigued with stories of rough-and-tumble cowboys and fiercely independent Westerners.

Arizona Highways has a tradition of quality that dates back to its early years and continues today. This can be seen in the photographers and writers whose work has appeared and continues to appear in the magazine as well as artists whose works the magazine has featured. Throughout the years, the magazine has included the works of artists Ted DeGrazia, Frederic Remington and Lon Megargee; the writing of Joseph Wood Kruch, Frank Waters and Tony Hillerman; the photography of Ansel Adams, Josef and David Muench, and Barry Goldwater; the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Mary Colter and Paolo Soleri; and the creations of Native American artists Fred Kabotie, Harrison Begay and Allan Houser .

The magazine was expanded from 48 to 56 pages with the January, 1992 issue adding for the first time in 20 years six new departments.

"Thanks to our continued commitment to spectacular photography and superb writing, as well as our expansion into related products such as coffee-table books, cards, calendars and travel guides, Arizona Highways now is a self-supporting operation that no longer requests state appropriations," La France said. "As always, Arizona Highways is an innovator, always looking for new ways to bring the wonders of Arizona to the world."

In 1995, the magazine debuted Arizona Highways Online offering numerous features including excerpts from the monthly magazine, exclusive travel features, a wildlife portfolio, a QuickTime VR experience, and extensive links to other sites designed to encourage travel throughout the state. The high-tech, user-friendly online magazine has been visited by more than 900,000 guests.

Read more about the Phoenix Art Museum in Resource Library


For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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