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John Kiewit: Gone to Sanctuary


Kiewit and surfboard

John Kiewit surfing in Tahiti

The following excerpts are from Gone to Sanctuary by John S. Kiewit (Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1997). Used with permission.


I have spent the good part of the past thirty years planning a trip or traveling to geography off the tourist itinerary. In the western United States I became familiar with places obscure and remote, and in the process came to know myself and the landscape as I found it.

The highways and trails leading to sometimes never-reached destinations have offered up solitude and grandeur, apprehension and beauty, knowledge and grief. Along the route and at road's end, the decay of man's dreams and the simple elegance of the natural scene have been the premier attractions. The pattern of the dunes, the color of sheet metal, the weathering of wood and the changing sky are images that are as important to me as the 'grand view'. The pleasure in finding and photographing these subjects has never wavered, but has become more alluring over the years-the joy of the finding.

In addition to my own journals, my partners in the search have been books: authors whose words became part of the photographs that I was looking to make.

Many nights, cocooned in a camper, I reread paragraphs and thought how those remarks pertained to certain images. In this text I have used some of my remembrances together with words by favorite writers to frame my photographs.

I have destroyed my boots trying to dry them over campfires; eaten weird concoctions of my own making; imbibed with strangers; run out of gas; broken down; gotten lost; fallen into icy streams; been stuck in the mud, sand and snow; had major sunburns and blisters; started and ended love; been sick as a dog; and have made friends with some real odd people.

I am no sooner home then I feel the pull to be off again. I suppose it's a type of sickness. Doubtful recovery.

- John Kiewit


In trying to describe the America West, Gertrude Stein said, "Conceive a space filled with moving." John Kiewit's landscapes show just that: a vast empire where animals and humans have lived and laid claim. His eye makes our eye move all over the place. The images have a meandering, lonely, wild, forgiving and bring us to those places that give us sanity and solace. We are happy in each temporary abode, among tree, stacked mountain ranges, swimming through curdled clouds and oceans of grass.

John is native to the California coast. We met when I came to live on this ranch just under the bent elbow of point conception. I was sick when I moved into my unheated cabin: he brought a pickup load of wood and his home made chicken soup. We had both come here seeking sanctuary from confusion.

John's photographs result from a lifetime of roaming through the western states. In Nevada we see the burnt out shell of an abandoned De Soto far from any town, the exterior of a bar with a drive up window in Coolridge, New Mexico, a fence in Utah wandering across coral pink dunes, an orange railroad car converted into a house with turquoise doors in Nogales, Arizona and closer to home, a light house keeper's lonely house protected by the curved arm of a tree. But there is unity to these peregrinations. As John Steinbeck said, "This journey has been like a full dinner with many courses." An appropriate quote. John Steinbeck would have loved John Kiewit's cooking as well as his acerbic wit.

John roam, but is at home everywhere. That is his gift. He sees into the heart of a place and gives us images that makes us want to go there, move on, and come back again. His path is circular. He isn't giving us freak shows. Rather, these photographs are the ones we would make of the places we've loved if we were able. John has done it for us and I thank him.

- Gretel Ehrlich
Agua Caliente Canyon
December 5, 1996