Some professional artists know from an early age that art is going to be their career path. Others, however, are brought to it a little later in life often at times of need. That need may be personal fulfillment, stress relief or, in some cases, healing of the mind and spirit.

The latter was the case for Light Hunter. His journey began miles away from civilization, tucked away in the remote caverns of Northern Arizona. It was in these caverns that he experienced not only the magnificent beauty Mother Nature was capable of, but also her healing powers.

Initially, he began seeking out these caverns as places of respite to heal and grieve after the passing of his mother when he was just a teenager. As he sat there in silence, he began to study how the light filtered through the nature-made rock sculptures––awestruck by the beauty and the way it shifted depending on the time of day and the season.

Inspired to capture the beauty of the light he was witnessing, he invested in a manual film camera and a large-format enlarger for his darkroom. He worked for years to perfect the rare craft of Cibachrome, also known as Ilfochrome, a positive-to-positive photographic print process that uses layers of silver halide emulsion and dyes. This process is a labor of love to be sure, but it was the only way Light Hunter could do justice to his subject matter: light.

While photography became a path for his self discovery and a way to express his love of nature, his real passion is for creation and the spirit of nature that connects all living things. Over time, after receiving so much from his time in nature, his purpose evolved into a journey of giving back and making a difference…one that he continues to this day. In fact, in 2020, he and his wife decided to close down their galleries and start a nonprofit called Light Ranch that distributes approximately 80,000 pounds of food and essentials each month to Native elders and their families in need.

Read on or watch the video below to learn more about Light Hunter, his unique process and how his journey was shaped by the relationships he built while exploring Native land.

When did you know photography was your calling?

I really got into photography more for healing. When I started as a teenager, I just felt like going to these places is really what started to heal my heart.

My mother died of lung cancer when I was a teenager, and the only way I really had any sense of peace and comfort in beginning my journey to grieving was to go to these places––these canyons. So, it was more of a spiritual quest and photography just became a tool to learn about myself in these places.

What tools do you use to create your unique style?

As I’ve been doing photography for 40 years, it started with film. There wasn’t digital. I was always obsessed with the quality, and the larger the film, the better the quality was.

I went from 35mm––my first camera––then I jumped up to medium format and then I went to large format. And that all happened probably within two years. Once I started seeing the difference in quality and the resolution, I was hooked. The darkroom was a great way to see that because you could see the results of the quality by looking at the resolution and the tonality––it changed my life. So, I went to large format right away. I do have lots of cameras, but my main camera is an 8×10 plate-film camera. With the size of the negative being so large, it really holds up all the details. Once the film is developed, it goes into the dark room and then I make prints from it, and it just holds all its detail and color.

But being at the right place at the right time is a real big part of it. I like to study places. A lot of these canyons, I had the privilege of being there before they got popular. So, I would just spend a lot of time marveling at it and watching light change throughout the day. And it’s not just the time of the day, but also the time of the year, you’re going to get a whole different quality. That’s when my love affair with light really started to birth. Every time you’re there, you’re going to see something different and get a different emotion––it changes all the time.

Do you have a favorite location?

Antelope Canyon. I think anybody who’s seen my work realizes that I was one of the first to photographically engage in that area and to build a portfolio. There have been others too, but back in the early 80s, those places weren’t visited very often. So, they’re very special to me––very sacred. The experiences I had, in a lot of ways, really saved my life. I know that sounds very dramatic, but as a teenager I was really grieving and being in those places felt like being in the womb of Mother Earth and creation. It gave me the solace I needed and gave me a purpose too––being on the hunt for light and looking for those moments.

I’ve also been blessed to be able to connect with the Native Americans in those canyons and the Navajo, and became very good friends with them. In fact, I even have adopted parents who are Navajo. Those relationships that I had from those earlier years really helped shape my life and I’m just so grateful for that.

So, that would be one of the most special areas to me because of the relationships I have, not only with the landscape, but the people. They’re beautiful people and they’re kind, they’re humble and they’re just very giving people. That’s what I’ve discovered by going into these places and meeting the natives of their land.

What do you love most about creating art?

Making a difference. That’s the bottom line. My whole mission and purpose behind the photography is not just to awaken the senses, but to really have appreciation for the beauty of creation and to be able to look at a place and say, “Wow! I can’t believe that’s real.”.

Look at what nature can provide. Maybe it’s just for a brief moment. Maybe just a few seconds of that light, but just that inspiration…it’s so powerful. It’s healing. It’s sacred. There are a lot of words you could put to it, but I know for me that was something that helped me heal––being able to be on that hunt for light and that kind of experience.

So, when I know it makes a difference to somebody in some way for them, whether it helps them escape from their hectic, busy life and be able to be grounded and connected with nature. Making photographs with a big camera and being out on these locations, it is very meditative and there’s nothing quick about it. My process is really slow. People say,” You have all the patience in the world to do it. You use that kind of camera and wait for light.” I feel blessed to be able to do that because just to sit and marvel at creation is not a bad gig.

What brings you back to the Celebration of Fine Art?

For one, the Celebration of Fine Art, I truly believe, is just full of so much beautiful artwork and a quality that is better than most places. How they jury this show is a real integral part of that. They really make sure that every subject is different, every medium is a little different, and each artist has something to bring to the table to be their individual expression. I thought, well, maybe I can make it in here. And fortunately, I’m here and I feel very blessed and humbled to be here.