By John Sexton Back to


I never suspected that my life would be changed when I went to visit my high school friend, Mark, on Christmas night 1969. I went to see the gadget he had received that morning as a gift. What he showed me was a photographic enlarger. It didn’t take us long before we had turned his bedroom into a makeshift darkroom, complete with “safelights” comprised of a strand of red Christmas tree lights borrowed from the family Christmas tree. I was mesmerized as an image mysteriously appeared in a tray of what seemed to be dirty water. I have no recollection whatsoever what the photograph was of, but I can still sense the excitement I felt watching that first print emerge so long ago.

Intrigued by what I saw happen in Mark’s bedroom, a week later I took the money I had saved from a newspaper route and purchased an enlarger. It was not a very good enlarger, but it was a much better enlarger than I was an enlarger operator! I spent nearly all my free time in my new darkroom. My activities were limited to nighttime hours, as my darkroom—in which there was no running water and you could not stand up—was in the attic of my parents’ house. Light seeped in through air vents in the uninsulated room. I wore a heavy jacket in the winter (not thinking about the effect the cold might have on the developer), and sweated profusely in the summer months. I can remember running with great anticipation to show my latest “creation” to my family. As supportive as they were, I could detect that no one was as excited about my photographs as I was!

That exhilaration is still a part of the photographic process for me. I guess that’s why I love the traditional darkroom. I find my darkroom to be a place of solitude and, in a way, almost a sanctuary—not unlike climbing underneath the focusing cloth of my old-fashioned 4×5 inch view camera. I’m separated from the rest of the world. Watching an image appear under the dim glow of safelights is still an intoxicating part of the process: the anticipation, waiting for the time to pass in the fixer before turning on the white light; the ultimate excitement when that light illuminates a print which meets your expectations. When that happens it makes the entire photographic ritual utterly addictive. The process, for me, is still magical and alive.

Photography has been good to me. I’ve had the opportunity to study with great teachers who not only gave me information but also inspiration along the way. I’ve traveled to distant lands with my camera, met photographers from around the globe at my workshops and lectures, and still today find that my fascination with the medium persists.

In combing through the thousands of negatives I’ve made over the years, I’ve seen many photographs that made me question: What was I think? In addition, while studying negatives, contact sheets, and work prints, on many occasions I was instantaneously transported back to memorable experiences in pursuit of photographic images- hiking in the canyons of the Southwest, braving early morning cold for sunrise images, walking back by moonlight and headlamp, arriving at my trusty van at midnight after staying late at a distant location- so I could get just one more exposure.

I feel privileged to communicate through the medium of photography, to pursue the magic of light as it transforms the silver emulsion of my heart, mind and soul. I hope that you will sense a glimmer of the magic and the excitement I felt while making these images.

About the Author

John Sexton
John Sexton is known as a photographer, master print maker, workshop instructor and lecturer. Author of four award-winning books, Sexton is best known for his luminous black and white images of the natural environment. Sexton served as photographic assistant and consultant to photographer Ansel Adams. John’s finely crafted large format photographs have appeared in numerous exhibitions and publications, and are included in permanent collections and exhibitions, throughout the world. For information on John’s workshops, prints, and publications, visit