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Romancing the Stones

Beauty is in the details: Jack Stuler's Ice-covered Rock.
Jack Stuler

You don't need a subscription to Arizona Highways to know that our state's landscape is one of the most photographed on Earth. Arizona's rugged mountains, dramatic canyons and exotic flora are snapped so often, it's easy to become immune to their charms. And that's why it's so refreshing, and even jarring, to see Arizona's natural beauty through the poetic lensing of photographer Jack Stuler.

"Wet," a collection of his work from the 1960s through the 1980s, will be on display at the Icehouse on Monday, December 30. It's the first exhibition curated by Icehouse director Helen Hestenes in two years, and the first show in Reflections, a seven-part series showcasing the work of Hestenes' favorite artists. Not coincidentally, the date is also Hestenes' birthday.

"Jack Stuler is the most collectible Arizona artist," says Hestenes, "because his black-and-white silver prints are the most endangered Arizona art form right now." Stuler, professor emeritus of photography at Arizona State University, continues to work with silver gelatin prints, eschewing the rising popularity of digital media.

Hestenes says she selected "the most passionate, sensuous" works for the exhibition. "I'm just trying to capture the true spirit of him as an artist," she adds.

Stuler makes the familiar otherworldly with close-up shots, many taken in Greer, Arizona, that turn natural objects into surreal forms resembling alien terrain or voluptuous flesh. Only the titles -- such as Rock Forms, Foam, East Verde River, Cactus and Sand -- reveal that we're looking at bits of rock or parts of plants. Stuler finds splendor in the land's nooks and crannies.

In the introduction to In the Nature of Things, a monograph of 40 Stuler works, Bill Jay writes that the photos represent a deeply personal exploration of the natural world, one that Stuler seems to pursue without a thought for critics or audiences. "Jack Stuler . . . follows his instincts, [finding] treasures hidden by nature, oblivious to the self-serving and narcissistic shouts of the art market," Jay writes.

Hestenes agrees. "I relate to the way he works, the way he lives his work -- lives, breathes and feels his work," she says. "And he doesn't care if anyone sees it or not, because it's his life."

What do the mysteries of nature look like? Stuler has the answers in black and white.

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