Photographer Willis Peterson will showcase his spectacular photographs of the natural world at Phoenix College’s Eric Fischl Gallery from March 7 – 25, 2011. The public is invited to meet the artist and preview the exhibition, entitled The Glory of Nature’s Form, from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Monday, March 7 during a free event at the college, located at 1202 W. Thomas Road.
Peterson’s exhibition at Phoenix College will feature images from the Southwestern deserts and the Arctic region. The photographs represent a portion of a larger exhibit of Peterson’s work that premiered at the Valley’s Heard Museum in 1973. Since then, it has graced museums and galleries nationwide, including the Museum of Natural History in New York, the National Wildlife Gallery in Washington D.C., and the Wildlife Experience Museum in Colorado.
Peterson, who is also a teacher and author, has spent the better part of his 87 years photographing wildlife and nature in locales all over the world, from the Arctic tundra to World Heritage Sites in Central America.
His passion for photography began at age 14 when he received a box camera from his mother as a birthday gift. He had been “collecting” wild animals in a makeshift backyard zoo, and his mother believed the gift would re-direct the young Peterson’s energies.
“That opened up a completely new venue for me,” said Peterson, who grew up in Colorado and took an avid interest in nature from a young age.
Peterson applied himself to achieving an education as passionately as he pursued his talent for photography. He enrolled at Phoenix College, and found his time there to be pivotal in his personal and career development, thanks to the encouragement of faculty and staff. He graduated in 1947 and went on to attend Arizona State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and, later, a master’s degree in visual technology.
“Phoenix College will remain as a place where figuratively I grew up,” said Peterson, who remains connected to the school by providing an endowed scholarship for talented students who demonstrate insight into seeking the beauty of nature and environmental issues through photography.
Peterson was a photojournalist for many years and later became a feature writer for the Arizona Republic. As a successful full-time freelance photographer, his work has appeared in National Geographic, Time/Life Encyclopedias, National Wildlife, Audubon Magazine, Natural History and Arizona Highways.
In 1968, he was selected to build a photography program at Glendale Community College, creating the college’s photographic curriculum. He taught there for 18 years.
“It was a super time,” said Peterson. “A number of my students went on to be professionals after they left my classes, working for publications such as Arizona Highways.” Peterson found that teaching was an ideal fit for him, leaving his summers free to take “treks” with his wife and children to various locations and photograph the wildlife and scenery.
Peterson’s artistic intuition and exceptionally high standards have been major influences in the teaching of photography in the Southwest. In 1975, he was named Journalism Teacher of the Year at the community college level by the Western Newspaper Foundation.
Peterson is also an accomplished author. His book Colorado Kid: A Swedish American Boy Goes West tells of his life as a seven-year-old moving from Minnesota to Colorado Springs with the hope that the dry mountain air would help his severe asthma attacks. He covers the gamut from a small town boy’s backyard zoo, the cultural significance of his Scandinavian heritage, teachers who influenced his life, and the impact of the Great Depression and World War II.
Asked if he has a favorite image, Peterson cited a photograph he took during an Arctic excursion. The photo features a white Dall ram with curved yellowish-brown horns standing in a bed of wildflowers.
“Making pictures like that is something that stays with you,” he said. “There isn’t one image that I can’t remember. You become attached to those things – it’s part of you. You react with your subject and you capture something on film that will never be captured in that same way again.”
Peterson, together with his wife, Roberta, continues to travel and take photos. Among his goals is a trip to India to photograph tigers. He resides in Clarkdale, Arizona.
“By using the camera in an artful manner, I can contribute to people’s knowledge in a small way. I want to show that there’s a glory in every form of nature,” he said.
For more information about The Glory of Nature’s Form exhibition or the Willis Peterson Photographic Scholarship at Phoenix College, contact Frank Luna, Phoenix College Director of Alumni and Development at 602.285.7667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.