Journey into Light
September 26, 2003
Nicholas DeVore III was a man with an oversized appetite for the world. That hunger probably helped lead him to a bad end: DeVore, an Aspen resident from childhood and for most of his life, killed himself with a shotgun last May in Bisbee, Ariz., where he had lived for nearly a decade.
In the years before his death at age 54, DeVore was estranged from his family and reportedly struggling emotionally. Even those who knew him well earlier in his life acknowledge that DeVore was a complicated person with a pronounced dark side.
So it was probably a blessing that DeVore had, for much of his life, a vast creative outlet. The pursuit of photography gave DeVore the opportunity to travel, to seek adventure, to engage people – to give focus to his unbridled energy.
“What really drew him into the world of photography was adventure,” said Janie Bennett, who worked with DeVore for 21 years at the photo agency Photographers Aspen. “He was a character filled with the search for adventure. He had tremendous interest in cultures worldwide. He had a gift to go into a culture, explore it and find a way of expressing it.”
DeVore became a noted photojournalist, making photographs for National Geographic, GEO, Life and other publications. And he was an inveterate traveler, taking trips to India, Chile, Brazil, Iceland, Africa, Japan and the Canadian Arctic for his work.
A memorial service, including a video display of his photography, speakers talking about his art and music by Jimmy Ibbotson, will be held at Paepcke Auditorium tomorrow, Sept. 27, at 4 p.m. The service will be followed with a 6:30 p.m. reception at the David Floria Gallery, which is showing a retrospective of DeVore’s work through Wednesday, Oct. 1.
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Born in Paris in 1949, the son of a U.S. Air Force major and a British mother, and raised in Aspen, DeVore didn’t get his first camera until he was 19. But he had a natural talent for photography. He already showed a charismatic personality – DeVore was president of the Aspen High School class of 1968 – and was a passionate outdoorsman. Photography, though, was where he shined brightest. After studying at Aspen’s Center of the Eye and doing outdoor photography while working as a ranger for the Forest Service, DeVore caught the attention of Robert Gilka, the legendary photo director of National Geographic, through his work. DeVore was in his early 20s and had been working in photography for just a few years.
While DeVore was acknowledged as an excellent technical photographer of the outdoors, it was the way he embraced cultures and provoked people that made his work stand out.
“He had a real way of loosening people up, making them relax and respond,” said David Hiser, who, along with DeVore and Paul Chesley, co-founded Photographers Aspen in the early ’80s. “There are in his pictures gestures that make the picture special. One really feels that in his photographs – an intimacy in the people pictures that is unique.
“He always had a way of getting a response from people. He couldn’t get into an elevator with another person and not talk to them, try to get a response.”
DeVore was known to go to extremes to get the photographs he wanted. “He would never settle for the boring. Never,” said Bennett. Among his long-term projects was a series of photographs of a renowned, ancient Colorado cowboy, Patrick Mantle. For 10 years, DeVore would travel to shoot Mantle driving his herd of hundreds of horses across northern Colorado. It was classic DeVore, combining his love of the outdoors, people and a distinct culture.
“Wherever he was in the world, he tried to make it back for that horse drive and document that dying part of the American West,” said Bennett. “And these cowboys loved him. He was right at home, and it was remarkable to watch him. He was so at home with them, and then a week later he’d be shooting in Paris. That was his way.”
As much as he achieved, it was probably inevitable that, given his emotional makeup, DeVore would not be fully satisfied with his photography. Though he had some gallery shows and dabbled in fine art photography, DeVore never completely crossed the line from photojournalist to artist.
“He was a photojournalist. But he was forever torn with that,” said Bennett. “What he wanted to be was an artist. He never really accepted the gift he had as a photographer. His real goal was to be, if not an art photographer, then an artist.”
DeVore certainly had the artist’s temperament. “He was a complicated person,” said Bennett. “He could be as joyous as he could be sad. And angry. He had as much ability to create despair as he did joy. He had a very dark side.”