OCC’s John Upton struts his stuff in the gallery

Photographer and former OCC instructor John Upton signs the book “Right Place, Right Time: A Survey of John Upton’s Photography” in the Arts Pavilion.

Former Orange Coast College professor and photographer John Upton hosted an exhibit at Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion and talked about his years teaching at OCC.

The exhibit, “Right Place, Right Time: A Survey of John Upton’s Photography,” showcases his early work from 1950, along with poems and letters.

One piece, “Japanaila” is a compilation of his time in Japan, accumulated over three decades. The photos give his view on the culture and lifestyle.  Another, called “Jungle Road” is based on his time he spent in Hawaii. Photos of the jungle are vividly on display, giving the photo to appear if it’s 3D.

During the opening, Orange Coast College alumni and current students gathered around to hear Upton speak about his early days and his time teaching at OCC.

Upton studied art and photography under Minor White, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams at the San Francisco Art Institute. He later worked for a year as a resident student under White at the University of Rochester, and took photo history classes from another pioneer, Beaumont Newhall.

“When I began, Arthur Evans was department chair and the only instructor in the program. I started by teaching a couple of beginning photo classes in the fall of 1963,” Upton said.  

He wanted to continue his photography education, but there wasn’t an art school he wanted to work with, Upton said. He recounts his discovery of OCC as accidental.

According to Upton, he was on his way from Balboa Island to La Habra when he made a wrong turn and ended up on Fairview Road. Thinking that the college may teach photography, Upton said he went into the Administration building.

“Upon going in I was asked if I would like to teach and before he could finish the sentence, I said yes,” Upton said.

Upton was named department chair of the Photography department at OCC in 1970 and retired in 1999.

“When I started the program was quite small, in total 40 to 50 people. By early 1970 we had the largest photography program in a public intuition in United States,” Upton said.

 Former student and colleague, photography professor John Hesketh  attributes his growth as an artist to the influences of Upton.

According to Hesketh, he was captivated when he stood in a stairwell listening to Upton talk about Japanese impressionists for another class. In 1986, Hesketh took that very class.

“By that time our friendship already had started,” Hesketh said. “He was my photographer fine art father.”

“Right Place, Right Time: A survey of John Upton’s Photography” will run until April 4 in the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion, which is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

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