For Jack Rathbone, a picture truly is
worth a thousand words.
He's a geologist by trade, an AAPG member since 1948
and a humble man of few words. Really, really few words. In fact,
he seems loathe to discuss details of himself and his work with
the outside world.
But Rathbone speaks volumes each and every time he
points his camera at spectacular views that define the beauty of
the Rocky Mountains.
Click. A majestic shot of Longs Peak.
Click. A compelling view of Steamboat Rock.
Click. A new way of experiencing something you've
seen hundreds of times -- but never quite like this.
Click. He opens a new world of visual reality, for
both geologists and laymen alike.
For years now, Jack Rathbone's stark black and white
photographs of the Rocky Mountains have illustrated newsletters
and magazines for the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.
He shoots primarily black and white film for a simple
reason: "You can do more with it," he said, almost challenging the
listener to prove otherwise. "There're more choices of what you
can do afterwards as far as getting different effects."
A little later in the conversation another practical
reason for the artistic choice emerges.
"I do my own enlarging, printing and developing,"
he explained. "It would be a little hard to run your own enlarging
in color without considerable expense."
Down-to-earth. Practical. Simple.
You might never guess that his eyes and talent have
captured the grandeur of the Rockies as effectively as they have
-- but his unassuming nature is perhaps his greatest gift.
When he takes a photo, the result is a celebration
of his subject. And for geologists everywhere, the Rocky Mountains
are worth celebrating.
'You See a Lot of Scenery'
Rathbone graduated from the University of Nebraska
with a degree in petroleum geology in 1941, served in World War
II and then started taking pictures when he returned home from the
He began his geological career with Mobil Oil, which
brought him to the Denver area where he was an exploration geologist
who did some well work.
Since then Rathbone has worked not just in Colorado,
but also Wyoming, Utah and North Dakota, doing a lot of well work.
Along the way he "got involved in bits of photography,"
he said, characteristically downplaying his accomplishments. "It
was not an everyday thing ... it was more or less sporadic."
But as his geological career progressed, so did his
love of photography, moving from a casual hobby to a second career.
His portfolio grew. And grew. And grew some more.
Sandy Pellissier, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Association
of Geologists in Denver, talked about going to Rathbone's office
and finding an overwhelming abundance of photographs.
"In his office there are stacks and stacks of pictures,"
Generally, he preferred to work with a graphic camera.
"There aren't many other sheet film cameras that
are still around," he said. "They used to call it a speed graphic.
It's long since been just a straight graphic camera, one of the
few large format cameras still around."
Surprising, Rathbone said he rarely went out on expeditions
to get certain pictures. Instead, he took photographs sporadically
as he was working in the field.
"It was something I did all the time," he said. "You
see a lot of scenery when you are doing geological work."
Indeed. And working in and around the Rocky Mountains
made everything all the better for him, and his photography. Spectacular
views are as common as sand dunes in the Sahara.
Celebrating His Art
Rathbone, now retired, still maintains a consulting
office in Denver and still takes photos for the RMAG -- in fact,
he is the RMAG official photographer.
"I try to keep up with things," he shrugged.
"Jack has been a fixture at RMAG for a very long
time," Pellissier said. "He takes all the photography of our award
winners, student and professional awards along with our board of
The RMAG published his photography work in 1985,
in a book titled Mountains and Canyons. About 50 copies still remain
available through the association.
Pellisier said the organization has used Rathbone's
photographs as fillers on the inside pages of its newsletters and
magazines for many years.
"He has been so generous with letting us use them,"
she said. "Over the years, we've had to have used more than 100
of his pictures."
Pellissier said she has gone through the numerous
photographs at Rathbone's office to choose pictures for use at convention
"In his office there are stacks and stacks of pictures.
I would pick out some for our booth -- it was a daunting job. We've
got some blowups of his pictures that we use at booths."
To recognize his contributions to RMAG, the group
named him an honorary member in 1987.
Something else that Pellissier admires about Rathbone
is that, as strictly a black and white photographer, he has honed
in on what is becoming a lost art.
Mountains and Canyons celebrates his art. The hardback
book included photographs of gorgeous scenery of the Rocky Mountains.
"For each picture, there's a description and a diagram
of the geological features of the region," she said. "It includes
a couple paragraphs about the formation. It's a book for the lay
One might say the book, which helped raise funds
for the RMAG and won an award from the National Association of Science
Editors is a work for all people.